Context – waiting for the printer

Joy Williams’s album Venus is a complete left-turn for several reasons, each being a twist on the initial turn.*  I started today looking for some new country or “Americana” as the kids these days are calling their Appalachian roots music these days.  Something like Margot Price, who’s amazing but only has the one album as of writing this.

So today’s journey started with Spotify’s “Folk/Americana” section, where under new releases was a thing by Joy Williams.  Sounds good, let’s gamble on that.  I go to her most recent album and can’t help but notice the glaring lack of banjo on the opening track.  This is much more Indie-Pop than Folk/Americana.  I’m into Indie-Pop, having spent the better part of 2016 listening to as much St. Vincent as I had access to.

Joy Williams is awesome.  And I’m not just saying that because the opening track is a reference to one of my favorite poems.

The instrumentation is lush and interesting.  The lyrics are powerful and stay on meter upon my first listen (nothing bothers me so much as an artist trying to squeeze a syllable into or out of a line, get better at writing n00bs).  She can sing super duper well.  I’m into this.

And it never lets me down.  It avoids the sameness that can sometimes happen in pop (I’m looking at you, Ke$ha).  I get it, we all love 4/4 and universal chord progressions.  We sometimes need some variation.

Then when you think you’re about done with her, she hits you with the ballads.  The album ends as strongly as it finishes despite the complete opposite approach to the songs.  Where “Before I Sleep” promises glitter and gold, “Welcome Home” is a somber reflection in a still pond.

What I’m confused about is why this is called a folk record.  Either I’m completely out of touch with modern folk music, or there’s some genre trickery going on.  If this is folk than 1989 is Taylor Swift’s best country album.  I get that genre is sometimes routed in an artist’s history and that the entire notion of genre is flexible and up to interpretation, but I wouldn’t compare this with Sufjan Stevens or The Mountain Goats, both of which fit more traditional iterations of folk music.**

I could write more, but it would just be more of the same adulation and I’d rather just give this album another listen, because it’s that good.  J.R. out.


*Twist 1: thought I was covering a folk artist; T. 2: Turns out it was a pop artist; T. 3: Turns out it was a Contemporary Christian artist hiding in plain sight all along; T. 4: I’m not even mad about it.
**So after a bit of research it appears Joy Williams used to do a lot of Contemporary Christian stuff, and this is her first “mainstream” album.  I’m willing to bet it was easier to pitch her as a Folk artist than a Pop artist given her previous work, but calling this a folk album still feels wrong to me.