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Songs from Crescent Vale
Artist:  John R. Williamson
Label:  independent
Length:  17 tracks/50:51 minutes

Sample

John R. Williamson is a friendly Bob Dylan with a normal voice.  Mostly picking, sometimes strumming his acoustic guitar and blowing on his harmonica, Williamson joins a long tradition of stripped-back, laidback singer/songwriters following the '60s vibe into the future.  Your head is kept nodding to the eclectic percussion and bass rhythms that accompany his organic old school singing storytelling.  And most of the songs are good, evoking memories of Simon & Garfunkle, Leonard Cohen, Dylan, Nick Drake, and the like (though never equal to their best).  "Big Ol' Car" and "Special Thing" even stray into Jonathon Richman style lounge folk, as do lines like "it's easy to be someone less than who you really need to be" (from "the hypoglycemic milkman").

Robert Deeble joins him on African drum, shaker, and electric guitar for a few songs, and provides his raspy background vocals on "A Miracle."  Fans of other distinctive Christian acoustic adventurers like Jesse Sprinkle, Dan Donovan, Lost & Found, and Mike Knott should also make time to track down Williamson.  There are no overt spiritual themes, but plenty of human tales and lessons learned. 

The imperfect production lends the album a smiling downhome atmosphere.  A variety of different recording methods give each song a different sound, whether it's an echo, static, or some other tone. You get the feel of a back porch, a smoky coffeehouse, a crowded home studio, a big empty club...it's almost as interesting noticing the different lo-fi production touches as it is listening to the music.  The only real fault found is that some methods allow the bass to overpower the words in the mix.

At 16 songs, this is about half an album too long, though.  There's a lot of good stuff spread thin.  Too much of a good thing can actually get old, and Williamson pushes the limit.  Still, he's a great songwriter with real promise.  This disc has been out for awhile, so it's about time you found a copy.

Josh Spencer              9/30/2000 


 
 

Josh Spencer, contributing senior associate editor for The Phantom Tollbooth for over two years, is also publisher and editor-in-chief of spiritual pop culture webzine Stranger Things.  Reviews and articles by him are usually simultaneously published in some form at http://www.strangerthingsmag.com.

 

   
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