Brooks Williams is one of the great collaborators of the modern scene but for Diamond Days he goes back to basics – just one man, his voice and his guitar. I suspect that this may be his best work – everything about it is just perfect. Most of the songs are Williams’ originals and they seem to encapsulate a whole life’s experience but there are two traditional songs and two covers.
The first track is ‘Big Sky’ and I’d like to imagine that if Cisco Houston were writing now this is a song that he might write – the thoughts of a working man looking to get away from the daily grind and find some happiness. In fact, Brooks shares something of Cisco’s easy vocal delivery but while Cisco was recording in the 1950s, Brooks is very much a 21st century man. From the imagined western desert Brooks switches to the cold city streets for ‘London Road’ and although Brooks isn’t explicit it feels like a song about homelessness and loneliness.
The first cover is Tom Waits’ ‘Pony’. Brooks warm voice makes it a rather different song from Waits’ gruff original and we’re back in the world of Houston and Woody Guthrie. ‘Palomino Blue’ isn’t the song by The Wilder Blue and somehow we’re back in time and in the open country. This is one of the standout tracks on Diamond Days, compressing so much story into three-and-a-half minutes. ‘Stubble And Dust’ is a brief instrumental and then comes the second cover, Bob Dylan’s ‘Nettie Moore’. Relatively few artists cover Dylan’s later songs but Brooks has chosen well and the song benefits from not having the heavy drums of the original as he plays bottleneck slide. Even so he can’t help allowing a few Dylanisms into his singing and even if you didn’t know the song you could guess its source.
Brooks moves into what feels like a thematic section beginning with ‘On The Island’, not so much a song of love lost but love never realised. ‘Bonnie Triumph’ makes you think: is it a song about a girl or a motorbike … or both? ‘Train On The Island’ is the first traditional song and I think it must have inspired ‘On The Island’. Finally in this section, ‘Anniesland’ is a song for Brooks’ old friend Rab Noakes performed with absolutely minimal guitar.
‘Gone And Done It Now’ and ‘Doing Fine’ are both (auto)biographical. In the former he’s “sleeping on the cold, cold ground/With the scorpions and snakes” and in the latter he’s assuring us that “these are my diamond days” except that I think he’s lying. I think the writer doth protest too much. Finally the second traditional, ‘Ring Those Golden Bells’ closes the album with Brooks’ upbeat arrangement making you think of wedding bells. It is actually a vision of heaven and is often found in hymnals as well as bluegrass tune books.
I must issue a disclaimer here: my interpretation of some or all of these songs may be complete rubbish but that’s part of the fun of listening to new songs. I do know that it is a damn fine record and that may be all we need to know.
Artist’s website: www.brookswilliams.com
‘Pony’ – official video: