Williams, 28, a folksinger reared on Joan Baez and Simon & Garfunkel, doesn’t need an amp to convey the subtle nuances of her music. Her first album, The Honesty Room, recorded in a basement studio in Belcher-town, Mass., introduced her as a self-reliant new voice. On Mortal City the singer-songwriter comes armed with an acoustic guitar, a three-octave range and a crackling wit.
The stark “February” offers frosty images (“I threw your keys in the water, I looked back/ They’d frozen halfway down in the ice”) of the end of an affair. The over-long title track tells the story of a couple housebound by an ice storm on a first date, trying to survive. On “The Ocean,” John Prine’s gritty background vocal dovetails neatly with Dar’s supple high notes.
Williams’s songs—spare, pleasing melodies in which she transcends the vocal range from smoky lows to falsetto highs—exert a subtle undertow. They typically have word images within images. Each time you listen to this album you hear something different in her shades and patterns. (Razor & Tie)