Dar Williams

Mortal City

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On the first track of her second album, Dar Williams makes clear her intention to break out of the acoustic singer/songwriter ghetto: "As Cool As I Am" is full-out rock & roll with funky drums and a chorus built on massed choo-choo harmonicas. She doesn't stay in rock mode for long, but the more aggressive approach continues to inform her sound even when she retreats into a more typical acoustic setting. It's interesting to note that as her music gets more consistent, so do her lyrics. Over a spare guitar-and-cello accompaniment, she muses on the various ways that February can symbolize stages in a relationship ("And when we got home, we just started chopping wood/Because you never know how next year will be"). Elsewhere she finds her boyfriend "in the arms of a Student Against the Treacherous Use of Fur" and wishes she hadn't called a certain friend to help her move out. Funny? Oh, yes -- "The Christians and the Pagans" is hysterical, and so is "The Pointless, Yet Poignant, Crisis of a Co-Ed" (believe it or not). And it's the humor gone before that makes a song as naked as "Family" or as conceptually risky as "This Was Pompeii" come across not just well, but with enormous power. The really exciting thing is that her next album is even better.

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