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’: