A flinty kind of woman

Dar Williams retains her credibility despite pop forays

Brianna Riplinger

Fans of Dar Williams’ lovely, warm voice and witty, literate lyrics need not worry. Her seventh record, the infectious, comforting “Beauty of the Rain,” might have a distinctly pop feel, but Williams said she hasn’t changed.

“When people say, ‘Oh, shimmery pop sounds, she must be trying to sell out,’ I say ‘that’s what you’ve been saying since my second album,’ ” said Williams.

Williams is distinct in that her elegant, expressive folk singing style has always just barely avoided the nun-like Joan Baez-style earnestness too often found in female folk. Instead she can simultaneously convey lyrical irreverence on “I Saw a Bird Fly Away” (“I asked the ethereal girls / if they were floating yet”) and still vaguely play the role of coffeehouse folk-chick with “The Mercy of The Fallen” (“I got lost in my travels / I met Leo the lion.”) Despite its fuller production and multi-musician cameos, Williams rejects the notion that this album is a departure from her earlier acoustic, folk-flavored works. She sees it as a natural follow-up and calls it a “companion piece” to her 2000 release, “The Green World.”

Rob Hyman, a co-producer on “Beauty of the Rain,” has worked with artists as diverse as Jon Bon Jovi and Joan Osborne and brings an effective, rich pop touch to Williams’ sound.

“I was less paranoid with this album. Rob has done a lot of great pop music. When he would come up with these wonderful, shimmery pop keyboard things, instead of saying ‘oh no, my audience won’t like it,’ I went with the parts of ‘Green World’ which everybody liked – which were all of his shimmery things,” Williams said.

“The Beauty of the Rain” has Williams working with a diverse group of musicians, including John Popper, Bela Fleck, John Medeski and Allison Krauss. Along with the variety of musical additions, Williams delivers one of her first collaborative songwriting outings with Hyman on the jaunty “Closer To Me.” In her liner notes, she writes about finally breaking away from her idiosyncratic practice of creating songs “sullen-teenager style, alone and cross-legged with my guitar on a hotel bed.”

After relating a story of how easy it is to be flippant and wounding to others in daily interactions, Williams explains why she has clung to her brand of writing: “We’re such sensitive people. Whatever you project on other people, ordinarily, in a kind of fabulously selfish way, you definitely end up doing it more in songwriting. You find yourself open to the fears of judgment and condescension. I felt much more open to the process (with Hyman).”

Demystifying the commonly held notion that all great art comes from a bit of pain, Williams said she ideally writes when she’s happy. She firmly believes that it’s unhealthy for artists to only write songs when they’re in despair.

“I think depression is about one thing. It’s about paralysis,” asserted Williams. “So I don’t understand why we keep on saying that you write best when you’re depressed. I think that there are other ways to be reflective. When you’re more content with your life, you’re more compassionate, you’re more wise, you’re much more in tune with the cosmic game, y’know?”

Dar Williams will perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Pantages Theatre, (612) 339-7007, all ages, $24-$27.

Brianna Riplinger welcomes comments at [email protected]