Victoria Williams,
Sings Some Ol' Songs
(Dualtone, 2002)

Victoria Williams has a twangy voice that's one part little girl and a couple of other parts unknown -- perhaps a bit of Appalachian-style whimsy, her own home-bred Louisiana raspy warble that may seem disconcerting at first listen. But her voice works on her own compositions, and interestingly, it pulls off the majority of these "ol'" songs. Recorded between 1993 and 2002, these aren't traditional folk songs; they're covers of old standards like "Moon River," "Over the Rainbow" and "As Time Goes By."

"Moon River," the opening track, is a gentle invitation to listen further. Her quirky voice fits the song like a glove, and she seems to be having fun. She sounds appropriately innocent on the line "there's such a lot of world to see" as she takes us back to an older musical era.

Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" is more of a challenge for her to carry off well. Her voice sounds weaker here; it sometimes seems as if she's struggling to keep up. Hart and Rogers' "My Funny Valentine" also suffers from this effect. She just doesn't seem comfortable here, and her voice sounds more like a ghostly trill than her usual warble. She has an American-accented Kate Bush lilt on "Someone to Watch Over Me" that just seems to miss the mark by a few inches.

However, when Williams hits the target dead-on, she hits it well. "And Roses and Roses" is a fun romp. Her cover of "Over the Rainbow" isn't the Eva Cassidy cover that's been applauded recently; Williams' is straight from a dodgy 1940s club. There's an authentic innocence and longing working with the piano and string accompaniment. Opening "As Time Goes By" with a spoken piece, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer's "I'm Old Fashioned," and singing with only a Wurlitzer and bass, Williams sets herself in the musical interlude of a black-and-white film, but it's not Casablanca. She's following up "Over the Rainbow" in that dodgy New York City club hoping to be discovered.

"Keep Sweeping Cobwebs Off the Moon" takes Williams back to Louisiana and jazz -- and once again to the '40s, this time assisted by clarinet, tuba and coronet. "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" works well in a similar manner.

She's off the mark here and there; other times, she hits it directly. But what she has done is sincerely tackled songs often ignored by the contemporary singer-songwriters who are her peers.

- Rambles
written by Ellen Rawson
published 22 March 2003

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