Hendrik Hertzberg of The New York Times called Dar Williams “One of America’s best singer-songwriters,” and she has spent several decades proving him right. Her career was launched when she re-recorded a track from her first album, You’re Aging Well, with Joan Baez. The legendary folk singer invited Williams to join her on a tour of Europe and the United States and with Baez’ anointing of her as a folk singer worthy of attention, Williams’ career was on its way. “I’m the same age now that she was when she took me on the road,” Williams said. The irony is not lost on her.
Her album, I’ll Meet You Here, released in 2021, reprises the song, meshing her elegant soprano with the beauty of Bryn Roberts’ piano. On this version, her delicate singing is in contrast to her forceful push against conventional expectations for women. When she finally rejects them and finds her own voice, she revels in its power. It’s a journey Williams has made. Her latest album has several songs about relationships and Williams writes from the viewpoint of a woman who has weathered plenty of storms and is no longer willing to believe someone else’s definition of love. There’s also an understanding that everything in life is not under our control. “There’s a piece of your brain that you have to calm in order to meet time and to not sit there saying, ‘If I keep on following these rituals, maybe I’ll influence what’s going to happen.’ It’s like, ‘Why not just be OK with what’s happening now?’ I’ve been very interested in how to control my future and this album has to do with the fact that, at some point, you just can’t.”
Some of this was a reflection of the toll COVID took on everyone’s plans. Williams and her longtime producer, Stewart Lerman, tracked most of the album by the end of 2019 and into 2020. When guitarist Larry Campbell fell ill with COVID, the album was delayed. Still, Williams kept busy. Known as an author and educator, she wrote the book, How to Write Songs That Matter, based on her popular songwriting retreats.
Williams’ songs come from many places. “Little Town,” about locals unwilling to accept newcomers, was inspired by her 2017 urban study work, What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Travelling Musician’s Guide to Rebuilding America’s Communities, One Coffee Shop, Dog Run & Open-Mike Night at a Time.
Williams’ style may sometimes be literary and cerebral, but it is still accessible. When she talks about a possible theme for the songs on I’ll Meet You Here, she mentions her attempts to turn her backyard in the Hudson Valley into a meadow. The seeds she scattered didn’t take and her lawn, well, she says it “kind of has a crazy-lady look. I do all this remedial stuff; it’s not really working. But I know why I did it and what I was going for. Generally, people say, ‘I see what you’re trying to do.’ And I’m sure some people are shaking their heads, and I’m OK either way. At some point, you have to meet life where it meets you. I think what all the songs have in common is the willingness to meet life as it arrives.”
Come see Dar Williams. She’ll meet you here.