Her heart would know

Holly Williams does more than carry on her family’s tradition

Katrina Wilber

Holly Williams sings, plays the piano and plays the guitar. And one more thing: Hank Williams Sr. was her grandfather.

As a performer with some of country music’s biggest legends in her family album, it’s natural to assume Holly Williams would follow in their enormous country footsteps. Well, guess again.

Her debut album, “The Ones We Never Knew,” leans, in a general sense, more toward popular and soft-rock styles. Her voice sounds like a young Melissa Etheridge, her piano compositions are similar to Michelle Branch’s and her guitar riffs could back up one of Ani DiFranco’s songs. The synthesis of these elements gives Holly Williams a sound that’s not quite upbeat pop but not quite rock either.

Like innumerable other records, most of the tracks on her album are love songs. Thankfully, though, these aren’t the recycled bubblegum songs we’re bombarded with from other blond singers. These songs chronicle a different kind of passion, from unrequited or penitent to reckless and forbidden.

It’s hard to focus on either the lyrics or the accompaniment, as they are equally good.

In “I’ll Only Break Your Heart,” Holly Williams warns a potential lover of the risk he’ll run: “I want you with a harsh desire/ I crave you in the night/ but in the end, when there’s nothing left of you/ I’ll only break your heart.”

The gorgeous piano sound that lies underneath her words for most of the song becomes a solo at the end. The music swells like a hopeful lover’s heart but then slowly, almost painfully, fades away as one would leave a love for the last time.

It would have been easy for the Nashville, Tenn.,-born-and-bred Holly Williams to cash in on the family name and ride the wave of built-in country fans. Instead of relying on those good genes, she created her own style to make a name for herself.