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Victoria Williams


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Folk, pop, folk/rock with a frequent touch of country

Status:

Most recent release, Sings Some Ol' Songs (2002)

See also:

Victoria Williams's site

Wikipedia's entry for Victoria Williams

Comparisons:

Jane Siberry in terms of humor. Rickie Lee Jones a bit in terms of voice. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Covers/own material:

Own and co-written. Some covers.

General comments:

Highly original and VERY funny singer-songwriter. She's in that folk/country/rock area, and her songs are often little stories. Her voice may be an acquired taste, but it's worth acquiring. I think it sounds clearer on the later albums, particularly the last two, so those are probably a better place to start.
     She is so quirky and funny and fun, and so decidedly *different*. She's wonderful. When I heard Musings of a Creekdipper playing in a music store in the Pittsburgh airport, I really liked it and decided to give her another chance. Well, I love that album and Loose (my favorite) which I got next. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Victoria Williams' strength is clearly as a lyricist. At her best, she can evoke a sense of place, an emotion, or an idea, unfamiliar to the listener, with a deft naturalness. She exudes a natural warmth for both her subjects and her listener. Her subjects generally revolve around people (usually specific characters and others' perceptions of them), living (enjoying the hand you're dealt), and some mild forays into politics (usually animal rights) and religion. Her songs often skirt the line between simple and simplistic, between warmth and mush. Fortunately, her occasional slips onto the wrong side are the exception. Finally, she also has a wonderful way with words. (dbx@aa.net)

i've always been a little shy of saying that victoria's voice is hard to listen to. diamanda galas' voice is hard to listen to; victoria's just requires a bit of a readjustment—it's strange at first but soon sounds very natural and is perfectly listenable.(woj@smoe.org)

Yeah, Victoria Williams writes great songs. But that voice drives me nuts. (valerie@smoe.org)

Victoria is such an odd one that it can be a bit dangerous to recommend her. Probably one of the friendliest and charismatic performers around. Her vocals are quite unique, though to some ears quite unpleasant too :) Very country twangy, almost backwoodsy. If you've heard her once, you can always identify her. Maybe another good one to find somewhere to listen to first.
     I would really love for her to do an album of standards. Her interpretations that I've heard have been incredible. (neal)

I'm also relatively new to Vic—so maybe we should start by skipping her, um, rather unusual vocal technique, and zero in on Victoria as a gifted songwriter, right up there in my opinion with Dar Williams and Jonatha Brooke. Which leads me to wonder: Why does an artist with her songwriting talents not just do covers, but do covers of works of questionable merit? I am a major admirer of Louis Armstrong, but "What A Beautiful World" is not one of his defining triumphs, and Randy California's "Nature's Way" was something that I rather hoped I would never have to deal with again. And not even Vic's considerable abilities make them palatable.
     That carping having been done, I have to say that having just dragged out my CDs of Loose and This Moment In Toronto, and I am back to wondering why I just *love* her music despite what my spouse calls "way bizarre" vocals.... (rkonrad@ibm.net)

The first song of Vic's I heard was, er, either "Shoes" or "Vieux Amis" and I was convinced that my tape deck was broken until I realized that the music sounded fine, it was just that voice! But it's so wonderful, and so wonderfully expressive, and she writes such great music. (burka@jeffrey.net)

About 5 or 6 years ago, I checked out Swing the Statue from the library based on recommendations from ecto. I put the CD in the player, hit play, and 30 seconds later was scrambling for the stop button. Her voice was just killing me.
     Fast forward to about a year ago. I had suffered through many more Victoria recommendations on Ecto, and was really starting to feel guilty for not giving her much of a chance. So when I saw Musings of a Creekdipper, I hesitantly bought it. I put the CD in the player, hit play, and absolutely loved it. "Wow, her voice has really gotten better over the years," I thought. Of course I later found out that I was wrong. Her voice hasn't changed—I have.
     Musings of a Creekdipper ended up being my favorite album from 1998 (unless I'm forgetting some...I never get around to making top ten lists) and was a great soundtrack for a trip to the Smokey Mountains. I saw her in concert in Atlanta last year (during which I became certain that the phrase "She's a hoot!" was coined for her). And I have all of her albums except for Happy Come Home. I even adore Swing the Statue now. Makes me want to go back 5 years and give myself a smack in the head. Victoria Williams always makes me happy :) (mageeol@ro.com)

I love Victoria Williams's voice. ((iflin@speakeasy.net))

Comments about live performance:

I'm only a moderate fan of the albums, but I was totally enamored with her concert. I'd definitely see her again if she came to town, and would highly recommend her shows. (neal)

The quirkiest performer of the night, and the most fascinating to watch. She's all arms, limbs, and hair, and has this fragility in both her appearance and her songs that is enthralling. Her set didn't consist of any of my favorite songs of hers ("Crazy Mary", "Summer of Drugs", "Harry went to heaven", her cover of "It's a wonderful world"), and that was a slight disappointment, and she kept screwing up with playing. She seems constantly distracted onstage—by her hair, her sunglasses, by the band's other players, her feet. Still, you couldn't take your eyes off her. She was also very funny, chastising her bandmates for being shy and dunking her head in a bucket of cold water in the middle of her set. She's a wacky and weird delight. (miazgama@pilot.msu.edu)

Man, I wish her sound had been better. We could hardly hear her. She played four or five songs, including "Frying Pan" which we wanted her to play. She was very personable and fun, but again, we couldn't hear her well at all. I remember her saying that she had a hard time when it was really hot (due to her MS) and fortunately it wasn't as hot as it has been recently. Still, the sun was pretty strong. (colford@chlotrudis.org)

I'd been greatly looking forward to Victoria's set, as I'd never seen her play before. She was fun to watch, but she made a bunch of mistakes and the whole thing seemed to be more a jam session than a performance. Some days I would have loved it I think...today I just found it disappointing. (kamesan@geocities.com)

Recommended first album:

Loose or Musings of a Creekdipper

Recordings:


Happy Come Home

Release info:

1987—Geffen Records—GEFD-24140

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Victoria Williams—vocals, music, backing vocals

Guest artists:

Lamar Alsop, Amy Berger, Peter Blegvad, Carla Bley, Alfred Brown, T-Bone Burnett, Ralph Carney, Greg Cohen, Tony Coniff, Bob Cranshaw, Anton Fier, Irwin Fisch, Danny Frankel, Jody Harris, Fats Kaplin, Jesse Levy, Hugh McCracken, Tony Maimone, Louann Montessi, Bobby Previte, Hans Reumschuessel, Steven Soles, Steve Swallow, David Van Tieghan, Bernie Worrell—musicians
Stephen Croce, Angel Dean, Lisa Herman, Steven Soles, Syd Straw—backing vocals
Anton Fier—arrangements on "Merry Go Round," "I'll Do His Will" and "Opelousas"
Van Dyke Parks—string arrangements on "Shoes," "TC," and "Main Road"
Ralph Forbes—drum programming on "Animal Wild"

Produced by:

Anton Fier and Steven Soles

Comments:

This album has an amazingly strong sense of place, especially places not usually found in recent music. Most obvious is its rural Deep South feeling from the view of an insider. Equally striking for me is its sense, even celebration, of being outdoors, a nice change from the claustrophobia of much modern music. Even above and beyond that, this exhibits all of Victoria's strengths, with just one clinker.
     If I have my history right (and I usually don't :) ), Happy Come Home is Victoria Williams' debut, and a quality one it is. Musically, the album is more led by Victoria Williams' enthusiasm and spirit than anything I can put a definite finger on. To my ear, she has a decent sense of melody, nothing outstanding or instantly ear-catching. The music, performed in a clean professional background manner, sat somewhere in the unexciting no-man's land between folk and pop. Some of it struck me as too slick for her relatively straightforward unsophisticated songs and her voice, and her gospel song seemed out of her league. Her odd voice is definitely an acquired taste, one I doubt I ever will acquire. :) Yet she delivers her songs clearly from her heart, giving them more punch than the sum of their musical parts. Lyrically, the words are tough to follow, due to her quirky voice (and the lack of a lyric sheet :) ). I know I've missed some of the subtle points and shadings of her verse. Yet the strongest trait of her songs is that amazingly strong sense of place—outdoors in the rural American South. Being an outdoors person, I've long noted how little music touches things outside. Just for that fact alone, I found this album refreshing. As for her subject matter, no dominant theme stands out, except possibly a clear call to forget the worries of the world and just go out and enjoy life and the other people in it. "The key to the merry-go-round is the 'merry'", as she puts it. Her only political bent shows in a couple of animal rights songs. She also has a strange and wonderful way with words throughout her songwriting. Rating: strongly recommended. (dbx@aa.net)

I really love this woman's music!! Don't need to say anything more about that :) (onealien@mo.himolde.no)

Last spring I got a copy of Happy Come Home but didn't listen to it until a few days ago. Anyway, the point is, I've been meaning to post how much I love this, especially "Frying Pan" which I think is THE happiest song I have EVER heard. It's up there with Bound By the Beauty (Jane Siberry) with songs that can put me in a good mood. (JoAnn Whetsell)


Swing the Statue

Release info:

1990 (re-released 1994)—Mammoth Records, Car Mill 2nd floor, Carrboro NC 27510—MR0075-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

For fans

Group members:

Victoria Williams—vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, ocarina, dulcimer

Guest artists:

Don Falzone—upright bass, acoustic bass
Willie Aron—electric guitar, organ, acoustic guitar, backing vocal
Marty Rifkin—pedal steel
Andrew Williams—acoustic guitar, singing
David Williams—singing, piano
Michael Blair—drums, marimbas, cowbell, checkerbox, glockenspiel,vibes, singing, accordion, washboard, handclaps, door
Phil Shenale—kurzweil, organ, horns
Steven Soles—trombone
Bryan Beline—fiddle, mandolin
Melissa Hassin—cello
Dave Knight—trombone
Jeff Davis—singing
Buddy Miller—singing, guitar
Julie Miller—singing

Produced by:

Victoria Williams and Michael Blair

Comments:

Call this the dreaded sophomore slump. While Swing the Statue holds some outstanding songs, it also holds too much plain filler. The use of tricks, effects, and other oddities seems to indicate that Vic herself knew that the songs weren't up to par. (dbx@aa.net)

I first got Swing the Statue and couldn't really get into her voice, so I sold it back but kept recordings of the songs "Can't Cry Hard Enough," "Holy Spirit," and "Tarbelly and Featherfoot" which I love. It's been a long time, and I've since learned to love both Victoria's music and her voice, so I might feel differently about this album now. I ordered it, so I'll find out soon. The three songs I mentioned, though, are wonderful. "Tarbelly" is another great example of Victoria's storytelling, and the other two are just absolutely gorgeous in terms of lyrics, harmonies, music. (JoAnn Whetsell)


Loose

Release info:

1994— Mammoth Records—92430-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Victoria Williams—vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, harmonica, dulcimer, string arrangement on "Crazy Mary," orchestra wash on "Happy to Have Known Pappy"

Guest artists:

Andrew Williams—acoustic guitar, wurlitzer, electric guitar, pump organ, background vocals
Don Heffington—drums, percussion, bones, saw
Greg Cohen—acoustic bass, electric bass, stand-up bass, upright bass, piano
Paul Fox—chimes, tambourine, broom, string arrangement on "Crazy Mary", background vocals, shaker
Geri Stuyak—cello
Rami Jaffee—B-3 organ
Tim Ray—piano, wurlitzer
Greg Adams—horn arrangements
The Tower of Power Horn Section—horns
Tammy Rogers—violin, mandolin, viola, background vocals
Greg Leisz—electric guitar, pedal steel guitar, acoustic guitar, mandolin, 12-string electric guitar, dulcimer
Peter Buck (R.E.M.)—electric guitar, coral sitar
Richard Greene Fourteen—strings
Mark Olson—acoustic guitar, vocals
Van Dyke Parks—accordion, string, woodwind, horn arrangements
Richard Greene Ensemble—strings, woodwinds, horns
Scott Babcock—timpani, shaker, marktree, mouth shaker
Lili Haydn—violin
Dave Pirner—vocals, acoustic guitar
Doug Weisselman—clarinet, bass harmonica, clay flute
Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Gary Louris, David Williams, Jean McClain, Rose Stone—background vocals

Produced by:

Paul Fox

Comments:

This is my favorite of Victoria's albums, a desert island disc for me. Wonderful storytelling, great music, great fun. The harmonies are amazing—my favorite part of the whole album is the harmonizing in "Crazy Mary". It's less than a minute long, but it's soo gorgeous. (JoAnn Whetsell)

I *love* *love* *love* it. I like it better than the first two, which isn't to say that the 1st two aren't good...but I think this one is a bit more accessible, for me anyways. I particularly like her covers, because then you can more easily separate her quirky (TM) voice from her quirky (TM) songwriting. Anyways, I would highly recommend this...60 minutes of good stuff, with "What a Wonderful World" and "Nature's Way"—great covers. Can't wait to see her live! (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)

I haven't had much chance to listen to Loose yet but the couple of songs I've heard so far sound good. Victoria's music is the kind of happy stuff that I'm not always in the mood for, but I am as charmed as many of you are by her disarming style. (stevev@hexadecimal.uoregon.edu)

I'm not completely familiar with the originals, so I won't comment about that, but I totally disagree with the people who have said that those 2 songs covered by Victoria Williams are unpalatable. The songs might seem schmaltzy (? I'm not sure what your complaint of the originals is) done by someone else, but Victoria Williams sings with such passion and love that I'm hooked every time I listen. I especially love when she sings "it's nature's way of receiving you/it's nature's way of deceiving you" or something like that. I don't know...it just draws me into the music somehow. No complaints on her covers here! (HARTBARB@Mattel.com)

After I'd heard another Victoria Williams CD a while ago, I thought I couldn't stand the voice. But it grabs on. Quite good. (uli@zoodle.robin.de)

She's not a singer-songwriter; she's a religion. There's more accessible human truth in one line of a Victoria Williams song than in most of this year's other releases combined. (lissener@wwa.com)

NO idea why I like it...but I do. big time. (rkonrad@ibm.net)


This Moment in Toronto with Victoria Williams & the Loose Band

Release info:

1995—Canadian Broadcasting Corporation—92642-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for fans

Group members:

Victoria Williams—vocals, electric guitar

Guest artists:

Andrew Williams—guitar
David Williams—vocals
David Mansfield—guitar, pedal steel guitar
Don Heffington—drums, percussion
Joey Burns—bass
Tim Ray—piano

Produced by:

Danny Greenspoon

Comments:

This is great stuff. (meth@smoe.org)

It's wonderful! It was recorded in Toronto for the CBC, and it captures her performance perfectly with Victoria chatting between songs. We even get to hear Mollie [her dog] make an entrance (-: (jeffw@smoe.org)

This is almost essential for fans. The album beautifully catches her personality, her down-to-earthness. She comes through as so honest and likable. And the music is fun, peppered with some of her best songs from the previous 3 albums, including "Frying Pan" and "Hitchhiker's Smile" and "Summer of Drugs", some playful covers, and a preview of "Graveyard" from Musings of a Creekdipper. (JoAnn Whetsell)


Musings of a Creekdipper

Release info:

1998—Atlantic—83072-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Victoria Williams—vocals, piano, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, dulcimer, banjo, calimba

Guest artists:

Tim Ray—piano, rhodes
Joey Burns—bass, cello
Jon Birdsong—coronet, siouxsaphone, backing vocals
John Convertino—drums, vibraphone
Fred Drake—tambourine, backing vocals
Buddy Miller—electric guitar
Doug Wieselman—electric guitar, organ, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, backing vocals
Danny Frankel—drums, percussion, tambourine
Greg Leisz—bass, pedal steel guitar, acoustic guitar
Patrick Warren—chamberlin strings, voices, horns, and flute
Brian Blade—drum loop, drums, backing vocals
Wendy Melvoin (Wendy and Lisa)—drum kit, electric guitar, percussion, backing vocals
Lisa Coleman (Wendy and Lisa)—wurlitzer, moog bass, synthesizer, backing vocals
Byron Hause—bass
Ray Ortega—flute
Greg Cohen—bass
Razz—viola
Andrew Williams—acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Julie Miller, Buddy Miller, Billy Bizeau, Mark Olson, Teddy Quinn, J.C. Hopkins—backing vocals

Produced by:

Victoria Williams and Trina Shoemaker, Andrew Williams

Comments:

Creekdipper was the album that got me hooked on Victoria's music. I thought the title meant that she liked to swim a lot, and maybe it does, but it's also a reference to the Harmony Ridge Creekdippers, a group that she and her husband Mark Olson are in. This is a wonderfully rich album, perhaps mellower and more serious than the others, but still some of the trademark playfulness. There are such bright songs like "Hummingbird" and "Let It Be So". And of course, her wonderful storytelling as in "Grandpa in the Corn Patch". (JoAnn Whetsell)

I think it's her best album ever! Maybe because she doesn't sound so *cutesy* on this—I mean her songs are a little more mainstream. (Riphug@aol.com)

A miniature objet d'art. No idea why I love it, but I can't shake it or stop playing it. (rkonrad@ibm.net)

Thanks to everyone who recommended the new Victoria Williams. It is excellent—something of a coming of age for Vic, it seems; her voice is growing on me. Plus—the severely underrated Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman guest-star on several tracks. (4dm@qlink.queensu.ca)

I'm also interested in the new Victoria Williams. Like many people, I can't figure out why I like her—her voice is really weird, and anyone else who used as many religious themes as she does would normally grate on me, but she's an excellent songwriter, and her music really does give the sense that she's a truly wonderful person. (stevev@hexadecimal.uoregon.edu)

Er, not sure. I haven't listened to it as much as I should yet, but I guess nothing just screamed at me the way, say, some of the stuff on Loose (or Happy Come Home, or whatever) did. Nice, though. (burka@jeffrey.net)


Water To Drink

Release info:

2000—Atlantic Records—83361-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Victoria Williams—vocals, electric guitar, banjo

Guest artists:

Danny Frankel—drums, percussion
David Piltch—upright bass, bass
Brian Kane—acoustic guitar, alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, accordion, electric guitar, nylon string guitar, guitar
Petra Haden—violin, background vocals
Dicky Simms—piano, organ
J. C. Hopkins—wurlitzer, organ, piano, rhodes, background vocals
Barrett Martin—drums, marimbas
Greg Leisz—electric guitar, acoustic guitar, pedal steel, mandolin, mandola, bass
Dave Resnik—acoustic guitar
Lee Thornberg—trumpets, trombone
Lee Alexander—bass
John Birdsong—cornet, horns
Don Heffington—drums, bongos, percussion
DJ Bonebrake—vibes
Phil Parlapiano—mellotron
Mike Thompson—piano, horns, trombone
Mark Olson—acoustic guitar, background vocals
John Christianson—bass
John Convertino—drums
Van Dyke Parks—string arrangements on "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" and "Young At Heart"
Michael Dumas—acoustic guitar, background vocals
Evelyn Moffett, Carla Bagmerise, Arleathia Dean, Shannon McNally—background vocals

Produced by:

Victoria Williams and J.C. Hopkins

Comments:

I didn't know that Victoria Williams was coming out with a new album, so of course when I saw it in the store, I immediately snapped it up. And I'm so glad I did. This is a great album, classic Victoria, much in the same vein as my favorite songs from Musings of a Creekdipper. It has that same laid back feel, but I think overall it's an even stronger album, as there were a (very) few songs on Musings that never really grew on me. 10 originals, 2 covers. (JoAnn Whetsell)

what can i say, it's vic, sweet and wonderful as usual. (iflin@speakeasy.net)

Likeable enough album, but somehow doesn't quite capture the joy and irrepressibility that is Victoria's trademark. Some great songs, and a solid release, but somehow the magic is missing. (jjhanson@att.net)


Sings Some Ol' Songs

Release info:

2002—Dualtone—80302-01126-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Victoria Williams—vocals, guitar, harmonica, kalimba

Guest artists:

Danny Frankel—drums, percussion
David Pilch—bass, cello
Joshua Grange—pedal steel, r. guitar, piano
Jon Christiansen—bass, drums, bass drum
Brian Kane—guitar, piano, clarinet, arrangement of "And Roses and Roses," string arrangement of "Over the Rainbow"
Lee Alexander—bass
Petra Hayden—violin, viola, background vocals on "As Time Goes By"
Tim Ray—piano, Wurlitzer
Jon Birdsong—coronet, tuba, piano
Tammy Rogers—viola
J. C. Hopkins—piano
Don Heffington—drums

Produced by:

Victoria Williams (Brian Kane and Joshua Grange, co-producers)

Comments:

I've only had a chance to listen to it once, but it sounded good, and I'm not a fan of her covers. I bought it mainly to support her and didn't have any real expectations about how much I would like it. A number of different styles, very Victoria. Mostly low-key folky, but a few are faster and wilder. As always, I prefer the songs I don't know (which is most of them) but I do enjoy "Moon River" and "Over the Rainbow" quite a bit also. (JoAnn Whetsell)

I've been waiting for Vic to make a standards album for a while—and while this is more of a compilation of recordings over the past few years than a single cohesive "new" album, it still has some great moments—and a few klunkers as well (jjhanson@att.net)


Further info:

"Periwinkle Sky" appears on Lilith Fair Volume 1. "What a Wonderful World" appears on Voice: Music From Women of the World. The first volume of Sweet Relief is a tribute album that features other artists covering Victoria's songs. Proceeds benefit the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.

The Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a nonprofit charity, helps older musicians pay living expenses and medical expenses of musicians of all ages. Write to: Box 39666, Los Angeles, CA 90039 or call 888-955-7880


Thanks to Doug Burks and JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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