Feb 14, 2002
Robin and Linda Williams
Visions Of Love
Sugar Hill Records
"Keillor helps shape Williams' album"
Friendship and trust are mutual companions, and on Robin and Linda Williams' new release, "Visions of Love," the two are intertwined to glowing effect.
A friendship grew out of the Augusta County duo's numerous appearances on the nationally broadcast radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion" with the visionary host, Garrison Keillor.
Starting in 1975, the Williams began appearing on the program, which enjous a huge national audience. Many times when they were guests, they not only performed their own material, but also became part of the Hopeful Gospel Quartet, forming a bond with Keillor.
In casual conversation, Keillor mentioned that he'd like to produce one of their albums, and the seed for "Visions of Love" was planted.
The idea was for Robin and Linda Williams to do an album of covers, giving Keillor a lot of authority about what material they recorded and how it was accompanied. They would present a number of songs they'd loved and performed at sound checks and in their living room, and Keillor would prune them, choosing those which he thought accentuated the pair's considerable talents.
The trust in the equation was the willingness for the Williams to surrender a lot of their usual artistic control and furthermore, to record an entire album of someone else's songs.
After all, the pair have become highly respected songwriters themselves and their last several albums have been received warmly by fans and critics alike, and they've become mainstays on the Americana charts.
The result is stunning. Of course, the Williams are both strong singers and their vocal harmony blends are as much a part of their success as their songwriting is. But their affinity for the songs on "Visions of Love" is clear, and the sparse nature of the arrangements accents the fact that they're both very underrated musicians.
The choices on the album touch on numerous eras in American music and cover many genres as well. The title is derived form a lyric on the first cut, "I'll Twine 'Mid the Ringlets," a turn-of-the-century parlor song that A.P. Carter recast as "Wildwood Flower." Keilllor's "less is more" approach on the tune sets the tone for the rest of project, allowing the simplicity of the arrangement to meld with the sincerity of the delivery of Ms. Williams. The classic country honky-tonk era is brought to life with "After the Fire is Gone," complete with a laconic talking blues line by Williams, piano backing by Richard Dworsky that would make Floyd Cramer proud, the mournful fiddle of Peter Ostroushko, and a very robust harmony vocal.
The set contains a pair of Hank Williams (no relation) covers, and it's no secret about their affection for this country trailblazer's work. "Ramblin' Man" is delivered by Williams in a solemn, powerful take, while "The Blues Come Around" is accented by the sprite banjo of Ms. Williams.
Other country music giants are sources for material as well, including Jimmie Rodgers and Merle Haggard. "Mississippi Delta Blues" is a bouncy rendition, while Haggard's "Momma's Hungry Eyes" features Ms. Williams' emotive vocals and displays some fine interplay of the pair's guitars. Keillor's fondness for bygone musical eras finds a kindred spirit in Ms. Williams, and her readings of "Wasting My Time, Wasting My Love on You" and "Keep the Home Fires Burning" are simply beautiful. The first conjures up smoke-filled ballrooms with her vamping vocals. Love, commitment, friendship and trust are recurring themes of the songs on this project. They're also the themes that brought Robin and Linda Williams to entrust Garrison Keillor to produce it. It just goes to show that when you have friendship and trust, things will usually work out just fine.
__ Bill Kramer