Let’s reset. Joy Williams has been a successful artist since her solo debut in 2001 recording primarily faith-based music and has more than 10 solo albums under her belt. That said, Williams is perhaps better known and more frequently referred to as a former member of the GRAMMY-winning duo, The Civil Wars. It’s time to set Williams free and back on her own again, with her 11th soul-filled solo album, VENUS.
A master vocalist, Williams shines across her entire vocal range, with a rich timbre in the lower register and an ethereal breathiness in the upper registers. Able to maneuver around small, fast intervals, or large leaps, her voice adds another layer of meaning. During “Sweet Love of Mine,” her voices wobbles slightly, delivering, “I was broken, I was blind.” Melodies in this slow groove track ascend out of Williams’ bottom range, rebuilding at the start of each line. She reaches the highest pitch range during choruses, the melody floating around at tight intervals in and out of dissonance. Not only is the result beautiful, but the musical mastery adds considerable depth to every song.
Williams shows an unyielding honesty in her poignant lyrics. She refuses to hide from darker emotions, acknowledging and embracing them wholeheartedly (“Go on and reach into the dark,”) without wallowing (“And even though right now I don’t feel strong, one day I will.”) A fountain of emotional wisdom, these lyrics shoot straight to the heart. “I’ve got miles and miles to go before I sleep. Before I can feel anything. Before I’m free. I’ve got miles and miles to go…” from “Before I Sleep” hits home on personal and cultural levels. The lyrics on the album are so good, they deserve their own book.
Showing up for women, Williams’ empowering early-release single “Woman (Oh Mama)” pairs “woman” with verbs and nouns such as “Woman dream, woman hate, woman break,” or “Woman heaven, woman hell, woman teacher.” A shuffley, catchy melody with a primarily male-backed chorus of “oh mamas” all lead to the best line of all, “I am the universe wrapped in skin.” VENUS (itself a feminist-leaning title) also boasts “What A Good Woman Does” with somber lyrics such as, “So hear me, haven’t lost my voice with you near me, I can tell the truth about you leaving, but that’s not what a good woman does.”
Musically relying on drums, some guitar and a lot of synth sounds, including keyboards, strings, bird calls on tracks like “Till Forever” or anvil-like hits on “Until the Levee Breaks,” VENUS packs a lyrics-driven punch. Back on track in her own career, free of past chains perhaps shed through this album, Joy Williams delivers, and then some.