Guest Review: Joy Williams – “Venus”
By Dayna Duncan
Joy “effing” Williams! Please excuse my language, but I just don’t know how else to show respect. (I guess that’s how these young kids are doing it these days!) I wish there were a “Transformer Award” in existence because I think Ms. Williams would be the recipient…like, over and over again. She reinvents, rejuvenates, and reintroduces us listeners to a NEW aspect of who she is, yet again! I am blown away by the new sound on her brand spankin’ new album, out today, called “Venus.” Some say “nay” and I can respect that. Long time fans of Joy Williams will be a bit shocked when they hear the new album from beginning to end. It is most definitely not a sound that we have heard from her before. But as I said before, she has reinvented herself again, and I, for one, dig it.
She has moved (albeit RAN) from her Civil Wars persona to a very electro-funk pop-gospel sound. Maybe it was her very public, very ugly separation from her ex music partner John Paul White that fueled this magnanimous change in her musical language, or maybe this is who she always dreamed she’d be, but either way, it is different and very fresh. (Oh! And you can tell the influence that songwriter/producer Matt Morris had on this album as it SCREAMS his flare.)(Which I totally love, by the way)(That boy can SANG!)
“Venus” begins with the very bold “Before I Sleep.” If you are going to start a “strong woman” fueled, “release your inner-warrior” themed album, this is how you do it. With the muted piano backdrop and heavy electronic bass foreground, you can see immediately the journey you will be on in the coming 40 minutes. And it IS a journey. She is woman-hear her roar! “Sweet Love of Mine” is her new answer to a love song, with continued heavy electronic pops, beats, and synth. The third song on the album was released a little while back, so you may have already heard it. “Woman (Oh Mama)” is her “mic drop” moment to the music world who may have expected her to put out another piano-heavy or folky Americana album. I imagine she wrote it and then yelled “boom” when she was finished. (This one is SO Matt Morris!) As far as vocals go, she is one of the best in the business. Everyone already knew that…however, she sort of raised her OWN level! She was like, “I’m bored. I think I’ll start singing and make people cry…because I’m so good.” Respect.
“One Day I Will” is haunting, beautiful, and a bit of a “tell all.” (And it isn’t the only song on the album to BE one!) “Not Good Enough,” “Until the Levee,” “You Loved Me,” “The Dying Kind,” and “Till Forever” are all your typical soundtrack pieces to this journey Joy is taking us on. They all, of course, display great vocals, complex accompaniment, but on the “meh” side compared to the other songs. To the sticklers amongst us, I did not include the 6th track “What a Good Woman Does” in that grouping. And for good reason! One of the most memorable songs on the album for multiple reasons; her vocal on the chorus when she modulates her melody…”mmmm.” Sorry…that’s sort of the only way I could describe it. Delicious! And this song is very reminiscent of the Joy Williams of years past. (Maybe showing a bit of similarity to “Speaking in a Dead Language”) Another reason this song is memorable is the topic. Remember when I said “One Day I Will” is a bit of a tell-all. Well, it is, but THIS song is a tell-all, be-all, and an end-all! Desperately sad and beautiful, this song is one of my favorites. However, my absolute favorite will have to be our last song to discuss. The final song on the album, “Welcome Home,” is just disgustingly gorgeous. The symphonic, orchestral music, the lyrics, and the layers of melody remind the listener of just how great a songwriter and musician Joy Williams is, why she is still around to sing to us, and why she is the way that she is. I believe this is her answer to her faith. “Welcome Home” sounds like an epic movie theme song to a life separate from faith, and then returning to it. It is spectacular.
So, in conclusion, you may love it or hate it, or you may teetering on the fence a little bit, but whichever camp you’re sitting in…you cannot deny talent. Joy Williams has it in spades. And hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. And the music she has just produced is evidence of that! Be strong, ladies. There’s a new bad mama in town!