Williams is an innovative and adventurous songwriter and performer, but many find her folky antics and unique voice to be a bit much. Certainly Water to Drink, her first solo album since 1998's critically acclaimed Musings of a Creek Dipper, will add quite a few new souls to each camp. Here Williams stretches herself artistically and scores more than a few creative triumphs, but her personal mannerisms color their share of songs as well.
The opening song swings along in somewhat self-indulgent ramblings about personal freedom, forgiveness, and her grandmother's hat pin, backed up by an instrumental soup of buzzy psychedelic guitars and Carole King-inspired piano. The result is a muddy mess that doesn't seem to go anywhere in particular. The rest of the album truly is a joy, however. The hippie vibe works better on "Joy of Love," where a breezy chorus seems more like a rallying cry than a repetitive drone. The title track "Water to Drink" is even better. An English version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Agua de Beber," the song allows Williams a fun vehicle for her vocal creativity. Here her voice seems more in its element, gaining a kind of Betty Boop coy sexiness instead of the croony qualities that seem to pervade elsewhere. Indeed, two of the other strongest performances on the album, on "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" and "Young at Heart," are standards, proving that Williams may be strongest when interpreting the songs of other people. Perhaps her lyrical quirkiness and eccentric tone and phrasing is a little too much all at once and the constraints of performing another composer's songs tone down the blur of her ideas, giving her space where she can spread out and share her immense talent.