Kathryn Williams

The Quickening

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The seventh solo album by Kathryn Williams is another example of how the British singer/songwriter has settled into her own particular groove over the years -- even being on an off-again on-again path with other labels certainly hasn't stopped her by now, and if anything, the switch to One Little Indian is a sign that she trusts a larger label once more to want to showcase her vision rather than simply polish it. Recorded over a four-day period, The Quickening at its best finds an elegant balance between the slightly mysterious and the warmly immediate, with the whole benefiting from the rich arrangements present song for song. In a field where far too often the addition of music beyond acoustic guitar has resulted in a clunky farrago, here the understated beats and droning squeeze boxes of "Just a Feeling" and the late-night jazz bar elegance of "Cream of the Crop" show just how much she has explored possibilities since her start, while the multiplicity of lead instruments throughout -- sometimes a piano, sometimes vibes, sometimes something else -- all speak to the capable range she now demonstrates in her work, along with her musical collaborators. There are also seemingly random touches of surprise -- in the opening "50 White Lines" a voice counts off each of the white lines in question in a way little heard since Spiritualized's "200 Bars," while the sudden appearance of her massed vocals for the first time on the piano-led "Black Oil" is beautiful drama at its best, a sudden shock. At its most stripped down, as on "Winter Is Sharp" or the softly rolling "Smoke," there's still a mix of elements like overdubbed vocals, but with a little more space let in, which helps the songs sink in all that much more.

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