February 19, 2004

Robin and Linda Williams
Deeper Waters

Redhouse Records

By this time in their careers, Robin and Linda Williams could coast if they chose to. They've produced an impressive body of work, and along with their Fine Group have established themselves as one of the foremost acts in Americana music today. They've written numerous songs that have been covered by other artists, and their last album, produced by Garrison Keillor, was well-received.

But their newest recording, due Feb. 24, proves that this pair and their group have no intentions of going through the motions and riding on past success. After many years of success on the Sugar Hill label, the Williams have moved to Red House Records and have set a new standard for themselves.

The title of the new CD is "Deeper Waters," which could be a metaphor for what's inside. The Williams wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 12 selections, and the songs are diverse, fully realized, and delivered beautifully.

Along with regular band mates Jimmy Gaudreau (mandolin) and Jim Watson (vocals, bass, mandolin), the Williams are joined by dobro wizard Mike Auldridge, bassist Mark Schatz, fiddler Ricky Simpkins, and a trio of interesting harmony vocalists, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Iris Dement, and Academy Award winner Sissy Spacek.

"Deeper Waters" gets off to a rousing start with "Whippoorwill," a story song that will undoubtedly be a staple in their sets for years to come. Augmented by a full-band sound and accented by Auldridge's dobro musings, Robin Williams' lead vocals are on the mark, and the group's trademark soaring harmonies make this tune a gem.

"October Light" gives Linda Williams a chance to shine vocally and after Gaudreau's dancing mandolin intro, the song reveals the pair's literary songwriting at its finest.

"There ain't no saving daylight/When the tenth month comes around/September's memories take flight/As heaven's lamp turns down." This evocative writing is enhanced by Linda Williams' chilling delivery.

She also blends her voice effectively with the guest vocalists, the first of which is country crooner Iris Dement on "Leaving This Land," a melancholy song about a family resigned to giving up their homestead. "The wolves are howling at our door/We can't hold them back anymore."

Another pair of guests, actress Sissy Spacek and her daughter Schuyler Fisk, team with Linda Williams in a romping, exuberant "Old Plank Road," a celebration of local picking parties that is as much about community as they are about music.

"Home #235" is an autobiographical song that finds the Williams joined by old friend Carpenter in recounting their life on the road and the anchor that home provides.

Co-written with Tim O'Brien, "Lost Little Children" tells of immigrant children desperately awaiting the arrival of their parents. "Saving Me A Place" remarks on the rewards of faith and the patience it requires.

The rest of the album includes equally fine songs, including the bitter "I'm Just Glad You're Gone," co-written with former Statler Jimmy Fortune. At a time when it would have been easy to coast on past success, Robin and Linda Williams have produced their finest album yet, a collection of top-notch songs brought to life with the help of friends, full of emotional depth and maturity.

Bill Kramer