Kathryn Williams

Dog Leap Stairs

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On the basis of this debut album, originally released on her own Caw Records (and later reissued in the U.S. by East West), British singer/songwriter Kathryn Williams earned laudatory comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake. To be sure, there is some of each of those artists (both admitted influences) in Dog Leap Stairs. As with Drake's Five Leaves Left, some of Williams' songs (such as "Fade" and, with its lovely thread of cello, the resplendent "Lydia," a pair of the songs produced by PJ Harvey collaborator Head) are dusted with delicate, Baroque touches of stunning incandescence, and like the most intimate recordings (Both Sides Now, Blue) from Mitchell, the recording feels at times ("Handy," the glockenspiel-drizzled "Dog Without Wings") as if you are being ushered into the most private confessions of the songwriter. But while those allusions work for various brief stretches, a much more apt reference for Williams' method is the early Velvet Underground, particularly the Nico-fronted band of the first album, as well as Nico's own first solo LP, Chelsea Girl. The sentiment throughout Dog Leap Stairs is certainly not as taciturn and emotionally tranquilizing as those albums, but the music is often just as sparse and the melodies as affectingly brittle ("No One to Blame"). Williams' performance, on the other hand, is so achingly soulful that the songs ultimately feel life-affirming, even during the album's most baldly painful ("What Am I Doing Here?," the lovely piano ballad "Madmen and Maniacs") or darkly tethered ("Night Came," "Something Like That") moments, and even when it threatens to placidly vanish beneath its own bashfulness. There is nothing, in other words, brutal about the album's beauty; to the contrary, it is ultimately entrancing. In any event, the acclaim was merited. It is delightful, yes. It is charming. But Dog Leap Stairs, beneath its sedated surface, has teeth, too.

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