Robin and Linda Williams
In The Company Of Strangers
Sugar Hill Records
Like many folk acts, Robin and Linda Williams can deliver a good storytelling lyric and wrap it in sweet vocal harmonies. Unlike many of their folkie colleagues, however, this husband-and-wife team from the Shenandoah Valley appreciates how a good beat can stiffen a song's spine. Even in their drummerless live shows, the Williamses rely on swinging acoustic guitars, riffing dobro and throbbing electric bass to give their tunes a vigorous pulse.
Those rhythms are reinforced by an all-star Nashville band (Tim O'Brien, Mary Chapin Carpenter, John Jennings, Stuart Duncan, etc.) on the duo's latest album, "In The Company Of Strangers." On honky-tonk numbers such as "Bar Band in Hillbilly Heaven" and "The Perfect Country Song," the crisp two-step beat is as important as the witty descriptive lyrics. And as they do when contemplating old age ("So It Go") and marital transgressions ("So Long, See You Tomorrow"), the steady rhythm porvides an inoculation against self-pity.
Except for a lovely, hymn-like version of Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart," all the songs were written by the Williamses with their longtime lyricist Jerome Clark. Most of the numbers concern rural America, both past and present, but without the usual rose-tinted glasses. Because the Williamses acknowledge the difficulties of "The Hard Country," the small victories won by their characters mean that much more.
__ Geoffry Himes