Robin & Linda Williams These Old Dark Hills Red House Records Reviewed by Donald Teplyske
Robin & Linda Williams have been creating folk-based, country-leaning music for parts of five decades, and as the long-married duo approach their 40th anniversary of recording in 2015 they just keep getting stronger.
There is nothing overly complicated about what the Williamses do. They tend to write and select relevant, heartfelt songs of relationships focusing on the places almost as much as the people (despite the protagonist’s claim to the contrary, “They All Faded Away” serves as a prime example, balancing memories of rolling hills, gently flowing water, and ramshackle towns with the recollection of a long-abandoned love). Their harmony-centric and acoustic approaches to music making ensures that the voices and the lyrics- the stories, characters, and settings- always remain at the fore.
None of which should be taken to imply that what they create is simplistic. There is true skill and art involved in making meaningful music pure and straightforward. Taking a rather undistinguished, latter-day Bruce Springsteen composition (“My Lucky Day” to create something that sounds classic is no small feat.
As is their practice, Robin and Linda alternate taking the lead vocal position with the other slipping into seemingly effortless harmony. Utilizing the standard bluegrass instrumental norm- five musicians on any six instruments including Chris Brashear’s mandolin and fiddle, Todd Phillips on bass, and Al Perkins on various steel guitars, with Linda on guitar and banjo and Robin on guitar- a consistent and appealing foundation is established early.
Lonesome and the title track, both co-written by the Williamses, are destined to become standards within their extensive repertoire.
Looking at Lonesome as a “rotten town” of mental blueness- “If you get broke down in that barren ground, you will be forever bound to Lonesome,” Linda Williams maps a journey of formidable challenge.
More gentle are the images Robin Williams evokes as he settles his tired gaze on “faithful confidants of stone.” The untouched, ancient wilderness is brought to mind within this gentle, loping number, as are fond reminiscences of family.
Additional highlights are a version of Jessi Colter’s “Storms Never Last,” the bright “Tessie Mae,” and “Arizona.” The only misstep appears- and this may not be universally felt- as the album closes with “World Wide Peace,” a familiar but over-reaching song.
These Old Dark Hills stands with the best of Robin and Linda Williams’ recordings.