|Kathryn Williams — Crown Electric (2013)|
Kathryn Williams — Crown Electric
λ• Fiercely independent British singer/songwriter who has attracted great praise for her beguiling contemporary folk songs.
Born: 1974 in Liverpool, England
Location: Newcastle upon Tyne
Album release: 30 September 2013
Record Label: One Little Indian
01 Underground 3:38
02 Gave It Away 3:19
03 Heart Shaped Stone 3:35
04 Count 3:29
05 Out of Time 3:32
06 Monday Morning 3:34
07 Darkness Light 3:36
08 Picture Book 4:49
09 Morning Twilight 4:49
10 Arwen 3:15
11 Tequilla 3:34
12 Sequins 4:56
13 The Known 3:40
by John Murphy | 27 September 2013 | Score: ****
λ• Before Elvis Presley was crowned the King of Rock N Roll and basically changed the music world forever, he worked as a truck driver and delivery man for a company called Crown Electric. It’s that company which gives Kathryn Williams‘ 10th album its title, and although it’s unlikely to eventually power her to Presley-style success, her most accessible album yet should win her a fair proportion of new fans.
λ• So often dismissed as a ‘folkie’, with all the niche interest that implies, Williams in fact sounds nothing less than a contemporary singer/ songwriter, and it’s a sound that’s been refined and perfected on Crown Electric. There isn’t a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on the radio — without turning overtly poppy or dumbing down, it typifies the kind of quiet, pretty songs she’s specialised in since 1999.
λ• As ever, beneath the beauty of Williams’ melodies lies a darkness. Opening track Underground skips along irresistibly, but concerns the mundane existence of commuters — “I see the same people on the train, I don’t say hello, I don’t even wave” muses Williams, before deciding “I don’t want to live like this till I’m underground”. As with her best work, it’s like having your hair stroked before being punched in the gut.
λ• There’s certainly an existential theme running through Crown Electric, with several songs concerning the passing of time — as Count explicitly states “I’ve got to make these hours count, these seconds count”. It’s a subject revisited in the gentle jazz swing of OUt Of Time, with the heart-rendering line “when you’re supposed to know you’re in your prime, until it’s behind you”, while the gently lilting Monday Morning is a plea to stop wishing the days away.
λ• Williams’ long-term producer Neill MacColl sprinkles his usual magic on the album, with the lovely, string-accompanied Heart Shaped Stone already sounding like a hit in waiting, and the second half of the record sees a couple of collaborations with Ed Harcourt which give Williams’ music an added depth. The swirling torch ballad Darkness Rises is probably the best of these, but Sequins (apparently written by Williams in Harcourt’s bath) is a definite highlight, if only for the line “If I walked the afterlife with no make-up on, I’d be frightening the angels for good”.
λ• It’s little lyrical gems like that which make Crown Electric such a joy to listen to. The title track cleverly compares the life of tragic icons like Presley, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston to the travails of the ordinary singer/songwriter (“well, stones can feel just as heavy as gold”) while Tequila contains probably the album’s key line, “Be brave enough to be yourself”.
λ• It’s been Williams’ ability to be herself that’s let her quietly grow into being an immensely talented songwriter. Crown Electric is not so much a case of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ but rather ‘it ain’t broke, but let’s make it even better’. (http://www.musicomh.com/)
Artist Biography by Kathleen C. Fennessy
λ• Often compared to Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake — quite favorably, no less — singer/songwriter Kathryn Williams was born in Liverpool in 1974. Her father was a folksinger and, as a child, Williams studied piano and guitar while listening to such '60s icons as Bob Dylan. Later, while attending art college in Newcastle, her songwriting prowess began to outpace her dexterity with a paintbrush. She began writing songs in private, citing a diverse array of influences including Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Tim Buckley, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, the Velvet Underground, and Nick Cave (whose "Into My Arms" played at her wedding).
λ• Fed up with music labels who did not return her phone calls, Williams released her debut, Dog Leap Stairs, on her own Caw Records. Co-produced by PJ Harvey associate Head, the album reportedly cost a mere 80 pounds to record (with some sources quoting as little as 75). Williams used her art school education to self-design the album cover's arresting image, setting a tradition that would be repeated on most of her subsequent releases. Dog Leap Stairs received praise for its spare arrangements and unique perspective on British folk, and Williams began to assemble a devoted following. λ• That September, she played before an audience of 2,500 when she appeared as part of "English Originals," the Nick Drake tribute night at London's Barbican. Her performance of "Saturday Sun" was heralded as one of the highlights of the charity event; it also led to the invitation to provide backing vocals to Drake friend John Martyn's 2000 release Glasgow Walker.
λ• Williams poured even more of her own money (3,000 pounds this time) into 2000's Little Black Numbers, which was again co-produced by Head and released by Caw. It garnered her best reviews yet from the notoriously fickle British press and would go on to secure a prestigious Mercury Music Prize nomination (an award won that year by Badly Drawn Boy). The resulting sales pulled Williams out of debt and led to a licensing arrangement with East West (a subsidiary of Warner), which re-released the album in 2001. Williams continued to branch out beyond the confines of folk when she contributed "Day by Day" to Signs, a 2000 release by the Indian-born electronica duo Badmarsh & Shri (which also appears on the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation soundtrack). Another surprising collaboration was "Demons in Cases," a 2002 single with electronica act Pedro (aka James Rutledge). Williams proceeded to record her third full-length, Old Low Light, with Head in South Wales and Newcastle. Released by East West in 2002, the cover features a family photograph of Williams and her father at the beach. By this time, Williams' backing band had solidified, comprising Laura Reid on cello, Jonny Bridgewood on bass, David Scott on guitar, and Alex Tustin on percussion. λ• Later that year, Williams contributed "Easy and Me" to Total Lee! The Songs of Lee Hazlewood, which she then followed with three releases over the next three years: Relations (2004), Over Fly Over (2005), and the intimate Leave to Remain (2006). Throughout her career, Williams has also released a number of singles, an unusual move for a folk artist, but also a sign that she has crossover potential. And that she does; hence the frequent comparison to more pop-oriented artists like Beth Orton, Turin Brakes, and Belle & Sebastian.
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λ• Dog Leap Stairs (1999)
λ• Little Black Numbers (2000)
λ• Old Low Light (2002)
λ• Relations (2004)
λ• Over Fly Over (2005)
λ• Leave to Remain (2006)
λ• Two (2008) with Neill MacColl
λ• The Quickening (2010)
λ• The Pond (2012)
λ• Crown Electric (2013)
|Kathryn Williams — Crown Electric (2013)|