VARIOUS – Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams (Slate Creek SCR0526172)

Gentle GiantsNow 78 and still going strong (his most recent album being in 2014), Don Williams is, both in person and on disc, one of the most laid back country artists you could imagine. Initially finding success as part of 60s folk-pop outfit The Pozo Seco Singers, whose hits included ‘I Can Make It With You’, ‘Hey Look What You’ve Done’ and ‘Excuse Me Dear Martha’, he embarked on a solo career in 1971, going on to score huge success with such song as ‘We Should Be Together’, You’re My Best Friend, ‘Some Broken Hearts Never Mend’ and, only released as an A-side in the UK, ‘I Recall A Gypsy Woman’.

Inducted into the Country Hall of Fame in 2010, he’s now the subject of a tribute album although, strictly speaking, it should The Songs Made Famous By Don Williams, since he’s better known as an interpreter than a writer

While curiously omitting ‘Gypsy Woman’ and ‘Best Friend’, it also doesn’t always go for the obvious crossover numbers, several numbers here likely to be familiar only to dedicated country fans, such as Keb Mo’s recording of US Country number 1 ‘Lord I Hope This Day Is Good’, Lady Antebellum’s string arrangement of Dave Loggins’ ‘We’ve Got A Good Fire Going’ and, a number 11 country hit in 1984, Loggins and Lisa Silver’s wistful story song ‘Maggie’s Dream’, sung here by Trisha Yearwood with Dan Dugmore on steel and electric guitars.

The collection opens with his 11th number 1, 1978’s uptempo ‘Tulsa Time’, given a suitably gutsy, going over by Pistol Annies with Mickey Raphael on wailing harmonica and tasty guitar by Colin Linden. Brandy Clark takes it into ballad territory for one of two numbers co-written by Roger Cook, 1980’s ‘I Believe In You’ waltzing lazily along on Guthrie Trapp’s resonator guitar. Three of his best known recordings come on a roll, kicking off with 1977 number 1 ‘Some Broken Hearts Never Mend’, Jerry Douglas providing dobro to Dierks Betley’s vocals. Only ever released as a B-side, but, for many, one of his signature songs, Bob McDill’s ‘Amanda’ gets a stripped down and throaty dusty blues treatment by Chris Stapleton, wife Morgane on harmonies, recorded live at the Grand Ole Opry in 2013. Arguably the seminal Williams number, and one he actually co-wrote with Wayland Holyfield, Alison Krauss gives ‘Till The Rivers All Run Dry’ a gentle, beautiful, reflective acoustic reading with a lush string arrangement by Kristin Wilkinson.

The second Cook co-write, 1982 number 1 ‘Love Is On A Roll’, is actually performed by himself and his co-writer John Prine, Linden on electric slide, Raphael on harmonica and Cook also providing ukulele and joining Garth Fundis on background vocals.

The most recent Williams hit here comes from 1981 and was actually a duet with Emmylou Harris and, while it’s a bit cheeky to assign a widely covered Townes Van Zandt classic to the songs of Don Williams, the spare version of ‘If I Needed You’ featuring Jason Isbell and wife Amanda Shires more than warrants turning a blind eye.

The album ends with another McDill song, Garth Brooks stepping up to the plate for a faithful rendition of ‘Good Ole Boys Like Me’, a suitably mellow end to an album clearly made with love and affection for the true Texan gentle giant.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.don-williams.com

Don Williams himself – ‘You’re My Best Friend’:

Ward Thomas share the official video for ‘Push For The Stride’

With the sounds of Country music permeating in the UK after the success of the hit television series Nashville, people both within and outside the music business have been asking – where are Britain’s home-grown country stars? Ward Thomas may well be providing some of the answers. They are on the threshold of becoming one of the first genuine major British Country acts.

Ward Thomas are 20-year old twin sisters Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas from Hampshire. Whilst in sixth form, a rough demo of the Ward Thomas track “Footnotes” found its way into the hands of Nashville’s most respected session musicians, leading to the recording of a debut album ‘From Where We Stand’ (out 21st July) that could spearhead a UK Country sound.

Hampshire and Country music may not be obvious bed fellows but these girls, brought up on a rural live stock farm from a family line that included artists and authors, have had Country music in their blood ever since they were introduced to the music of Carrie Underwood, Johnny Cash, Dixie Chicks and Alison Krauss by a cousin in their early teens. “We fell hard for Country”, as Catherine puts it. One listen to the vocal cadences and close harmonies on their debut album ‘From Where We Stand’ and Nashville and Hampshire suddenly don’t seem all that far apart.

Written in its entirety in the UK, without the help of A-list song writers, yet recorded in Nashville with some of Country Music’s finest including Bobby Blazier, Dan Dugmore and Chris Rodriquez, ‘From Where We Stand’ retains a certain Englishness which combined with the ‘Nashville’ sound gives us Ward Thomas’ own individual UK take on Country music. Their authentic Country sound with British influences and stories has been embraced in Nashville and the debut album can boast guest appearances from Grammy Award winner Michael Omartian (who appears on the track “Take That Train”) and Country Music superstar Vince Gill, winner of 18 CMA awards and 20 Grammys.

Lead single ‘Push For The Stride’, (follow up to their Radio 2 playlisted Footnotes EP), opens with strident guitars, melodic piano and vibrant harmonies. It’s an uplifting, up-tempo country-pop tune with a serious message about going after your dreams. The album contains a range of moods and textures – from heartfelt and exquisitely sung ballads like ‘Try’ and ‘From Where I Stand’ which was written about their parents’ divorce to barnstormers like ‘Way Back When’, ‘Town Called Ugley’ and ‘Push For the Stride’. Dan Dugmore’s swirling pedal steel supports the lilting melody of ‘Footnotes’, and Chris Rodriguez’s playful, chiming guitar and Blazier’s propulsive drumming balance the twins’ ardent vocals on another highlight, ‘Guest List’, which features one of many catchy choruses that will keep the listener hooked.

In the spring of 2014, Ward Thomas released their ‘Footnotes EP’ with lead single ‘The Good And The Right’ making it onto the BBC Radio 2 Playlist. Terry Wogan interviewed the twins on his popular Radio 2 show and they were also featured in a special Radio 2 documentary on country music broadcast in March. That same month they appeared at the Country2Country Festival at London’s O2 Arena where they were interviewed by BBC London News. More recently they have been featured in the Sunday Times Culture and recently performed at Maverick Festival in early July.

Debut Album ‘From Where We Stand’ released 21st July
Single ‘Push For The Stride’ also released 21st July

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Country is being re-born…(Ward-Thomas are)…fresh artists with country influences and the dexterity to create a credible home grown version of the music – Sunday Times Culture

“Young, country-pop duo with terrific original songs, and the delivery to make them unforgettable” – Alan Cackett, Maverick Magazine