If you like the edgy folk-rock of Robert Plant's latest record, this album is the perfect companion. English folk singer Williams' eighth album is primarily acoustic; features jazz-tinged arrangements and trippy-hippy folk melodies; and it isn't afraid of a little drone. Williams can deliver a lyrical phrase with the subtle artfulness of Beth Orton, Tim Buckley or Nick Drake.
Born in Liverpool and living now in Newcastle Upon Tyne, Williams retreated further from urban life to record this album in a remote Welsh studio. However, she's no traditionalist, having recorded a 2004 album of covers of tunes by the likes of the Velvet Underground, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Big Star, Pavement, Nirvana and Mae West. She also has a new children's album out as part of the duo The Crayonettes, along with Anna Spencer, a former member of the punk group Delicate Vomit.
Williams seems caught between eras—or out of time. Either way, the music here is luminous, the perfect accompaniment to her delicate, slightly breathy soprano. The gentle guitar of "50 White Lines" floats atop a modern-sounding folk-rock shuffle, but the arrangement grows more baroque as it unfolds. A banjo and mandolin melody gives "Wanting and Waiting" a hint of ragtime, while the stark "Winter Is Sharp" evokes the harshness of the season of its title.
Trad-folk fanatics may not find much here, but they still might embrace such precise, glowing tunes as "Black Oil," "Just Leave" and "Cream of the Crop," the last a sexy supper-club charmer, complete with a jaunty vibraphone.