Cris Williamson

Cris Williamson

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Cris Williamson Review

by William Ruhlmann

Although she later became an icon of the lesbian-leaning women's music movement, Cris Williamson came across as a conventional folk-rock singer/songwriter of her time when she released her self-titled mature debut on Ampex Records in 1971. (Previously, she had recorded three albums for a local label in her teens.) Williamson acknowledged the influence of Judy Collins, who also came from the Rocky Mountains region, even to the point of bearing the nickname "Judy, Jr.," and the immediate impression of anyone hearing the album for the first time had to be just how similar their singing voices were, not only in terms of timbre, but also phrasing; simply put, it would take the average music fan a while into the album to realize that this was not Judy Collins singing. That accepted, however, Williamson, who wrote or co-wrote eight of the 11 tracks, had her own musical approach, and a small army of top session musicians and arrangers gave her an eclectic style that ranged from the solo piano accompaniment of the leadoff track, "Waiting," to the string and horn charts that filled the ambitious closing song, "Number One." Williamson's western background was reflected in occasional examples of country-inflected playing, notably in "Joanna," which also contained more than a hint of Joni Mitchell. The subject matter included everything from character portraits like "Rebecca" and "James" to John Fromer's call for world peace, "One Thousand Cranes." The vicissitudes of romance were not central concerns, although Robin Lane's "Make Me Not a Stranger" clearly concerned a heterosexual relationship. In fact, the only song with a lyric that could be taken to reflect homosexuality was "Joanna," with its line "I need to touch you," and, not surprisingly, lesbian performer Meg Christian seized on that and began performing it, later recording it on her debut album, I Know You Know. Cris Williamson fits in neatly with the singer/songwriter movement of the early '70s and should be enjoyed by fans of Collins, Mitchell, and Carole King who may or may not appreciate its status as a precursor to the inception of women's music.

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