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Victoria Williams

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Olson
"I was worried,'' Victoria Williams says with a laugh as she speaks about her new album, "Sings Some Ol' Songs." "I've never put out a record of songs I didn't write."

"Sings Some Ol' Songs'" may be a decidedly different enterprise for Williams -- who since 1987 has captivated the music world with her distinctive songwriting and keening vocal approach -- but it still has the same attributes she's demonstrated on her six previous albums, namely an ability to take a song, any song, and deliver it a manner so individualistic that it becomes hers alone.

On "Sings Some Ol' Songs'' Williams does that with 11 pop standards, a captivating collection that ranges from revered favorites such as Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer's "Moon River,'' Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies,'' Herman Hupfeld's "As Time Goes By'' and the Howard Arlen/E.Y.Harburg classic "Somewhere Over the Rainbow'' to more obscure selections like "Cobwebs,'' Louis Alter and Edgar DeLange's "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans'' and Eben Ahbez's "Mongoose.'' There's a unity of spirit and flavor that runs throughout the album, which is remarkable since Williams did not conceive or execute "Sings Some OL'' Songs'' as a distinct project. "It's been accumulating for years,'' she says. "I had these sitting around, and that's why I'm putting them out. When I do live shows I include some old songs in the set, and there have been requests for me to record them. So I didn't really set out to do anything except please those people who have asked me, `Can you please...' ''

The tunes on "Sings Some Ol' Songs'' hail from different points of Williams' career. Some were recorded during sessions for her 1994 album "Loose.'' Some come from the sessions for "Water to Drink,'' the 2000 release that featured recordings of three other standards. And the newest, her take of Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer's "I'm Old Fashioned,'' dates back about a year. And for some of the songs, Williams says, she had to go back to original DATs that were done at Chaparral Bottom, the home studio she and husband Mark Olson maintain in Joshua Tree, California, and add additional touches to the existing recordings.

Williams says that the reason she chose these particular songs was "the excellent songwriting most of them have.'' She recalls the indelible impact of visiting her maternal grandmother in Louisiana, listening to old Hoagy Carmichael, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Johnny Mercer records, or listening to old-time radio shows. They provided an influence she couldn't shake, either as an artist or as a fan.

"I always liked to sing the old songs,'' she says. "I feel like, when I'm singing them, I'm telling the story of those songs. I get a reward out of that.'' Williams revels in telling them her own way, however. "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans'' was a natural; "I'm from Louisiana,'' she says, ``so of course that song just sits very true to me. And New Orleans is one of my favorite places in the world.'' For "I'm Old Fashioned,'' she sought to "perk it up a little,'' calling on drummer Danny Frankel for a more lively tattoo than is normally associated with the song. "Mongoose,'' she says, "is just fun,'' while she regards "Blue Skies,'' "Someone to Watch Over Me,'' "Moon River,'' "My Funny Valentine'' and other tracks "as just classic kind of songs, with great melodies and really timeless.''

"Sings Some Ol' Songs'' adds a new dimension to what's already been a remarkable career for Williams. Arriving on the Los Angeles acoustic club scene during the early `80s, she was an immediate local sensation who sounded unlike anyone else in the crowded field. Her first album, "Happy Come Home,'' came out during 1987, followed by "Swing the Statue'' in 1990. Sidetracked by multiple sclerosis in 1993, Williams came back strong with 1994's "Loose,'' while a group of fellow artists and songwriters -- including Pearl Jam, Lou Reed, Soul Asylum, Lucinda Williams and others -- rallied around for 1993's acclaimed "Sweet Relief: A Benefit For Victoria Williams,'' which began a series of albums dedicated to raising money for musicians who cannot afford health care.

Williams career has continued uninterrupted ever since, with the 1995 concert album "This Moment in Toronto With the Loose Band,'' 1998's "Musings of a Creekdipper'' and 2000's "Water to Drink.'' Additionally, Williams, as a member of Olson's band, The Creekdeepers, has recorded several albums with violinist Mike "Razz'' Russell and an assortment of other friends and musical guests. And with "Sings Some Ol' Songs'' safely in hand, Williams is looking forward to again recording some of her own songs in the near future.

"My goal has always been that if I'm allowed to play music, I want it to be music that's good for people,'' Williams explains. "And, thank God, I think it's happening. I think it's been good for people. Music is such a gift; it's something that we're given, and then we can give it back. That's a wonderful thing. So I hope these songs (on `Sings Some Ol' Songs') can be gifts, too, and I hope I honor the songwriters with my renditions.''

She has. Without question.

A founding member of the Jayhawks, Marc Olson & the Creekdippers' Dualtone debut hits stores this summer. Features the soon to be classic "Still We Have A Friend In You" and special guest appearances by Victoria Williams and Gary Louris.

Renewal and remembrance are hardly new thematic territories for Mark Olson. They've been at the core of his songwriting from his first days in the Jayhawks. But on "December's Child," his fifth album anchoring the sparklingly loose Creekdippers, he brings those elements to the fore with a combination of fragile beauty, deep-rootedness and playful joy. And he adds the element of reunion with his first collaboration with Jayhawk Gary Louris since Olson left the band in 1995.