Mason Williams

The Water Is Wide

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The activities of the Mason Williams touring ensemble seem to have been as under-exposed as his hit, "Classical Gas," was over-exposed. In the wake of Williams' decision to retire his ensemble in the late '90s, retrospective CD burning involving various recording projects represents the only hope for a listener from outside the Pacific Northwest area to really experience the full range of his activities. Maybe that is really impossible, considering that Williams is not only a composer but a writer, not only a writer but an inventor, not only an inventor but a comedian and so on. In lieu of all that, a CD-single comprising a single performance of the folk song "The Water Is Wide" comes across with simplicity both calming and overwhelming.

Like many of Williams' activities, the recording was driven by interest from guitar worshiping connections such as the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society. Arranging traditional material has been part of the repertoire of countless guitarists, Williams and Atkins among them. Featuring acoustic guitar, a Williams vocal and only violin and bass accompaniment, the performance is one of the sparsest things Williams has created. Typically, however, the three-minute song involves input from three different recording sessions over a half-a-dozen years. Stylistically it is a bit like Williams' earliest roots in clean-cut early-'60s folk groups -- the Kingston Trio, for example, used to perform selections from his Them Poems. Violinist Hollis Taylor and bassist Forrest Moyer bring a richer feel to the proceedings as the performance proceeds, however. Speaking of things that are wide, Taylor has also been recorded actually bowing the Australian rabbit fence.