Dar Williams - In the Time of Gods

    On first listen, In the Time of Gods is analogous with most of the records singer-songwriter luminary Dar Williams has released in her two decades as a performer. The warm, gentle voice, the clever, moving lyrics. The subtle, unassuming production that has given Dar’s songs the space to shine since her debut record, The Honesty Room. All of the qualities that have garnered Williams her large and devoted fanbase over the years continue to bloom beautiful tunes on the newest record, released by Razor and Tie.
    But as the title suggests, and as Williams herself has unpacked and explained in the coverage of the record, there is more at work on this record than any other. This is a concept record, through and through, with Williams interrogating Greek mythology and reinventing the stories to see what lessons there may still be to learn for contemporary listeners. What the myths have to say about chaos and order, about peace and fury, about civilization itself, about people—this is what Williams explores on In the Time of Gods, and to great success.
    This abstraction is at its best in a song like “The Light and the Sea,” which, for bonus points, has the angelic Shawn Colvin singing backing vocals. The song deals directly with Poseidon, the god of the sea, but simultaneously evokes the question of what it is to have a moral compass—a question that, when posed in an election year, seems to take on more weight than ever. Williams juxtaposes these two narratives—Poseidon, lost at sea; us, lost elsewhere—in the first two lines of the song. “Setting out upon the waves in darkness and upheaval/I was told that I alone would not know good for evil.” It’s Williams at her best, putting a magnifying glass to the human condition.
     Another song where Williams finds treasure is “I Am the One Who Will Remember Everything,” the opening track of the record that navigates the problematic interconnectedness of war and orphanhood, both literal and figurative. This song, along with “Summer Child,” which follows Persephone and Demeter, are the catchiest tracks on the record. They’re high-energy with anthemic choruses and powerful production, and beg to be played very loudly on a highway, with the top down and the windows rolled down. The triumph of these songs makes it rather easy to forgive the few tracks that missed the mark, songs like “This Earth” and “Crystal Creek” which feel somewhat muddied and aren’t as accessible as the record itself.
    The best track on the record, worth the price of admission in my eyes, is the closer, “Storm King,” which has Williams creating a god of her own out of Pete Seeger, a real-life neighbor who lives at the base of the titular mountain in upstate New York. Seeger is the patron saint of folk singers, and Williams pays him a lovely tribute in this exquisite song. There’s a line in the song that seems to encapsulate best what Williams has to say about her experiment, what the lesson to be learned here is. She sings, “In our progress and our industry/may we grow better still.” It’s an important, thought-provoking message, and Williams permeates it with subtlety and grace throughout this fine, fine record.

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