Dar Williams has been torn between her folkie instincts and the guilty pleasures of pop music just as long as she's divided her songs between smart and often witty character studies and explicitly activist political material, and 19 years after she made her first album, 2012's In the Time of Gods confirms all of this is still the case. However, with maturity Williams has been shifting the way these ingredients fit together, and musically In the Time of Gods is an album that uses pop textures to burnish material that still feels quiet and contemplative, even when the dynamics are at their most dramatic on songs like "Summer Child" and "I Am the One Who Will Remember Everything." The backing musicians, who include Charley Drayton on drums, Larry Campbell on Dobro, and Rob Hyman on keys, give these songs smooth and approachable surfaces, but Williams is clearly aiming for a thoughtful mood on In the Time of Gods, and that's just what the players and producer Kevin Killen deliver. The artful dynamics and cool, cerebral surfaces of this music accompany a set of songs that are most often the work of Dar Williams the activist, telling stories of child soldiers readjusting to the civilization of those who have rescued them, examining the upsides and downsides of political engagement, and struggling to find peace in a world where justice is in short supply. While the album's inward-looking tone is pervasive, Williams has also included a few more personal songs in the mix, and "I Have Been Around the World" is a moving tribute to her loved ones, while "The Light and the Sea" (featuring guest vocals from Shawn Colvin) is a nautical metaphor for life's constant challenges. In the Time of Gods isn't one of Dar Williams' most immediately engaging albums, but it doesn't sound as if it was meant to be. This is music that speaks of the heart, the soul, and the mind; her messages are articulate and well-crafted, and this ranks with her best work of the past decade.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming