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

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the VARIOUS – Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.

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

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

Matraca Berg – Love’s Truck Stop out now…

Matraca Berg didn’t set out to write five #1 hits in a single calendar year… to be nominated for Grammys in each of the past three decades… to have her seminal “Sunday Morning To Saturday Night” named one of the 10 Best Records of the Year in any genre by Time, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today and People, as well as myriad daily newspapers… or to end up in the prestigious Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame at such a young age. But here she is; one of the most consistently successful songwriters in America and she’s also a great singer, though only rarely makes her own albums.

Folking  are therefore thrilled to get behind the latest release of the new Matraca Berg album, ‘Love’s Truck Stop’ on Proper Records.

Maybe it was the deadline. Maybe it was the notion that she was making “a record.” Maybe her critically acclaimed 2011 album The Dreaming Fields (her first album in 14 years) that inspired the lithe songstress to keep reaching and writing.

For whatever reason, Love’s Truck Stop – a collection of songs that celebrate the spark of the human spirit, the resilience of women and the joy of being alive even when it’s difficult – is easily, in our opinion, the most engaging record of Matraca Berg’s career yet

“There’s something to the notion that creativity seeks creativity,” says Matraca, “The right people – the writers, musicians, even co-producer just lined up when I needed them. I had no idea who they were, no master plan, but there they were!

“It was a very small group of people, so there was this very special cohesion: it was like everyone was moving in the same direction, all moving towards the same thing. And I’m not sure if it was working at such a fast pace or the fact that I was working towards something I didn’t quite know, but could feel. It made me wanna get in the studio every day, to chase these songs to see where they were going to take us.”

The “group of people’ were Jason Goforth, a former missionary/activist turned roots musician who plays just about anything that makes music. Berg saw him backing co-writer Angel Snow at a gig at a tiny, out of the way room and the response was visceral.

“I literally chased him into the parking lot to ask if he’d work on this record,” she says with a laugh. “He probably thought I was mad, but he showed up. So it was him, and David Henry who came in as a friend and wonderful cellist/violinist/vocalist and ended up as co-producer… and me! The three of us, coloring in the songs, trying to figure out the best way to bring them.”

After Goforth and Henry (who is a veteran of the Cowboy Junkies) came David Mead, Over The Rhine, Mindy Smith and Yo La Tengo. Berg also drew on her myriad group of friends. Emmylou Harris, Kim Carnes, Pat McLaughlin, Pistol Annie’s Ashley Monroe and husband Jeff Hanna are among the vocalists.

“Emmy? Pat? Jeff Hanna?” laughs the eternally young old soul. “They’re just friends. It’s one of the beautiful things about Nashville – you call your friends, then they open their mouths! Suddenly, it’s ‘OH! That’s EMMYLOU…’

Harris’ appearance on the chilling “Magdalene,” inspired by Berg’s work with Becca Stevens’ Thistle Farms and Magdalene Project, which helps get prostitutes off the streets and give them skills to become a part of mainstream society, is stunning. Emmylou, during the recording, said, “This hit me the same way Patty Griffin’s ‘Mary’ did when I went in to sing on that…”

A diverse cast of characters, truths and locales, Love’s Truck Stop covers a lot of ground. From the scalding Cajungrass “Black Ribbons,” with its post-Gulf of Mexico oil spill bite, to the Ghandi graffitied bathroom of the “Love’s Truck Stop,” the all over but the good-bye “We’re Already Gone” and the languid flow of the girl stuck in California missing that sweet boy back home in “Sad Magnolia,” there is compassion for the downtrodden, the long gone and the outcast – all strung across lean tracks that evoke the mountains, the coffeehouses and those cracks in the walls and sidewalks where lost souls often find themselves.

That esprit de corps has always given Berg’s songs an incandescence and sparkle. Not one afraid of the gritty or the real, she finds pretty in the worst possible places. There is the elegiac piano-strewn confusion of an alcoholic’s child “Fistful of Roses,” the tautly plucky get-over-it-or-else “Buried Your Love Alive,” the against all odds folk of “Foolish Flower” that find the heart of resilience and thrive in spite of the odds.

Those get it girls… the woman who has no idea what comes after leaving in “Waiting On A Slow Train,” the 20 year old waitress with the Bible verse tattoo in “Her Name Is Mary”… survive against the odds, sowing love and light in their wake. You might not notice them, but Matraca Berg and her co-writers do.

“It’s the stories most people miss that’re most inspiring. Not the great big stardom stuff, so much as the woman making it work in spite of the odds. Sometimes just surviving that break-up, losing someone you love is everything. We’ve all been there, and it’s nice to know you’re not alone – even when it feels like no one else could ever hurt like this.”

“I just hope this record gets to the right people,” Berg says of her aspirations. “The people, who like me, who like the girl in ‘Her Name Is Mary,’ who find their truth and their strength in the songs. I’m always humbled by the stories people tell me about what music means to them – and if anything here does that, well, then, it was worth everything.”

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.