Plan Nine Records
April, 2000

Robin and Linda Williams
In The Company Of Strangers

Sugar Hill Records

It's a well-known fact that the finest country music is penned and played well outside Nashville's city limits. But even in the Virginia zip codes, it's a pretty well kept secret that a Staunton-based couple, Robin and Linda Williams, have since 1975 been turning out some of this country's best not-made-for-radio country. Though they've dabbled in gospel and old-timey country, their latest is made up of 12 acoustic cuts (11 originals plus a Hank Williams cover) that don't blaze any new trails, but also don't conform to any computer-generated formulas.

File this one in the Folk with a Country Accent category. The Williams' seamless harmonies and acoustic guitars are backed by long-time partner Kevin Maul on dobro, slide guitar and pedal steel. Cameo picking appearances by Stuart Duncan, Tim O'Brien and John Jennings help create the album's gently comfortable twang.

The opening cuts Hard Country" and "So It Go"are pretty representative of what follows. Linda and Robin take turns on lead vocals that carry steady and slightly bouncy fiddle/mandolin/acoustic guitar-driven melodies. The rural lifestyle anthem, "The Perfect Country Song" has a similar middle-of-the-country road beat. All make for nice toe-tappin'.

The Williams' vocal gifts get their best showcase on the graceful beauty of"This is the Real Thing." There's some classic country heartache in"So Long, See You Tomorrow" and a cool little bluegrassy groove at the heart of "Allow It." You probably won't hear it on the top 40 countdown, but the biggest potential for mass appeal is found in the rich harmony/picking mix of "Rumble." And while it's suddenly hip to be a Hank Williams fan, he'd be more than proud of Robin and Linda's icy version of "Cold, Cold Heart."

-- Bill Craig