March 24, 2000

Robin and Linda Williams
In The Company Of Strangers

Sugar Hill Records

Robin and Linda Williams have brought their country-folk harmonies and songs to this area so many times that their appearance at the Kirkland Art Center 8:00 p.m. Friday will be more like a reunion than a concert. Actually, the Williamses, along with their aptly named "Fine Group" of bass and dobro player, should present a fabulous concert, fortified by a new CD, "In The Company Of Strangers," released in January. It is one of their best and tightest.

Themes are usually in the head of the listener - but I'm sure this album has one that encompasses many. First there's a harkening back to straight old country music, without all that commercial fluff but a lot of emotion. Then, there is love, romantic, lost and recovered; breakup, return, aging, the road, and a bit of fun too.

Country frets are prevalent as the album alternates elements of honky-tonk bars, dreams, trucks, strangers, jail and such with strong contemporary passions that describe a more vivid truth. All songs are written by the Williamses and Jerome Clark, except one, Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart." Sung in a soft, sad way by Linda, with light guitar accompaniment, it is gripping. "Cold, Cold Heart" is a perfect country song by the "perfect" country singer and composer; hearing it returns you to "The Perfect Country Song" earlier on the disc. It's about a singer who did everything wrong.

The Williams' music is exciting, rhythmical, deeply reaching; the words stretch the limits of the imagination and the tracks are quite consistent. Down to details: The couple have been married for 25 years and are sturdy performers, reaching audiences from the Grand Ole Opry to those in some 100 venues a year. They live in Virginia, have toured the world, and create exceptional harmonies.

  • "In The Company Of Strangers" begins with the violin-tinged "Hard Country," a theme setter with Linda singing about storms and strife, amid a chorus of "I'm stuck in the hard, hard country," which could suggest the musical style itself.
  • This is followed by Robin's realistic and punchy twist about the feelings of an old singer still on stage. The same idea is repeated in the honky-tonk explosive "Bar Band in Hillbilly Heaven," about an old singer who died before he could realize his dream of "playing lead guitar Hank and Lefty and every honky-tonk hero who ever had a broken heart and a six pack to go."
  • And there's also the former singer, who realizes he was "The Perfect Country Song." Reality creeps in with "Allow It," a perky husband and wife duo about about accepting habits and love; "This is the Real Thing," a prize of a ballad with smart use of country themes, marvelously rendered by Linda, and "Rumble," a wry and intelligent tune sung by a bitter woman in a bar who hears a sound reminding her of her lover. Robin's sad wail about getting over his woman and looking forward to a "new old world for to see," makes you realize that he won't; and Linda's "So Long, See You Tomorrow," is an optimistic ballad in which she knows her lover will return. "Some Peculiar Beast," about a murderer on the run, breaks the pattern, but breaks it nicely. It's an Appalachian-type number with a flavorful country beat and riveting harmony.
  • As the last of the exciting dozen, "In the Company of Strangers" has Robin driving straight through the night, realizing that the highway keeps him in the "Company of Strangers." It's a real stretch, but is he listening to the radio?
That's the way it goes with the Williamses, their songs are so inviting that you add your own thoughts to them while singing along to the record.

__ Jonas Kover