"Williamses, Fine Group delight crowd"
March 22, 1998
Robin and Linda Williams
Devil Of A Dream
Sugar Hill Records
ALTMONT __ When Robin and Linda Williams and their Fine Group were called to the stage Friday at the Masonic Temple, Robin was still greeting friends at the back of the jam-packed room and had to hot-foot up the aisle to grab his guitar.
Robin and Linda Williams have been playing for these friends for 25 years, or half of their lives. Friday Linda acknowledgedthat she, Robin and bassist Jim Watson have turned 50 (median age of the overflow crowd) by way of introducing "Things I learned," a quiet meditation about the hard-won wisdom age.
They've learned a lot. Robin spoke of being on the fringe of many kinds of music and of the music business itself, before noting - with amazement- their album "Devil of A Dream" is on the new "Americana" charts.
Disregarding commercial categories or concerns they made the music they love Friday, music on the fringes of bluegrass, folk, gospel and country. They united everything with micro-perfect string-band technique, and a sophisticated but classicist songwriting vision. But this unity didn't prevent them from asking some songs to do several things at once.
They started the first of their two sets Friday with "On and On" - a combination road song and love ballad. "The Cheapest Kind" gently teased Depression-era elders for their frugality, but it too was a love song and Linda sang it with touching sweetness in her warm alto.
They played immaculately Friday - Watson soft thumping as few notes as any bassist, but always the right ones. Dobro player Kevin Maul played as many notes, and as fast as any dobroist - but not always the ones you might expect. And they sang just as well. Watson's mountain tenor joining Robin and Linda in well knit-harmony.
They sang gospel for real and without instruments in "He's Comin' Again So Soon." "Men With Guns" was off the wall completely. "Men with guns don't have to speak; talking is only for the weak," Robin drawled. "The Traffic Light" had a petulant but playful scoff-lawed defiance.
The second set was even better, alternating the silly with the sad. "So, It's Like This Man," or "One More Beer," made light of a man's losing his car, job, wife, girlfriend, and home: then -"Five Rooms" told a similar tale of loss, with wonderful harmonies.
Maul was featured in the instrumental "Beat The Heat" from his album "Toolshed," then Watson took over the spotlight to sing lead on "Sinner's Hymn," without instruments.
"High Atmosphere" and "Rollin' and Rambling" paid particular tribute to their inspirations among the high voiced hillbilly singers of early country music. But it was all their own, and the way they translate their respect for past masters into marvelous music in the here and now is their great gift.