Discovering Joy Williams’ Venus

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I’ve had the pleasure, in my life, of being surrounded by wonderful musicians. Instrumentalists, vocalists, songwriters—I’ve known a bunch. One of my very best friends is an electronic music genius who goes by the name Travelogue. Another good friend of mine and former roommate is singer/songwriter Tyrone Wells. He’s amazingly talented. And that’s just a couple of examples. When I think of the people I know who make amazing music just in their spare time (I’m looking at you, Erick), it boggles my mind.

Unfortunately, my musical talents are not that great. I wouldn’t call myself a music aficionado  or claim to have any particularly refreshing insights about the art form. And sadly, I haven’t followed the music scene much in the past several years. You will probably hardly ever see me post about music. But I recently decided to try out Apple’s new streaming music service because (a) it’s free for three months and (b) I’ve missed music being a part of my life lately. Apple Music allows me to browse pretty much anything out there and discover stuff that wasn’t on my radar before. In that spirit, I stumbled across Joy Williams’s new solo album, Venus. And I’m kind of in love with it.

If you’re not familiar with Joy Williams, it’s probably because you don’t ever listen to quality music. Kidding! I’d known of Williams before now, as one half of the folksy singer/songwriter duo, The Civil Wars. I first heard of this band when they cut a haunting track for the movie The Hunger Games with Taylor Swift called “Safe and Sound.” After that I’d heard some of their music, but I never got around to delving deeper (though I’d always meant to). After listening to Venus, though, I immediately rectified that situation, and the experience was beautiful. Sadly, the The Civil Wars broke up in 2014.

If you’re already familiar with The Civil Wars, Venus is a stylistic departure from the sound that won her and her partner, Jon Paul White, four Grammy awards. But it’s every bit as brilliant. The opening track, “Before I Sleep,” is a powerful, adrenaline pumping theme that is reminiscent of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” There’s no doubt Williams was inspired by Bush and probably other similar sirens such as Tori Amos. If you’re a fan of either of those songstresses, you should definitely check out Venus. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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Joy Williams & John Paul White: The Civil Wars

Williams gets pretty soulful after her opener, but there’s not a track on this album that won’t hold your interest. It’s almost a concept album. “Before I Sleep” brings to mind images of a broken person with a long, arduous journey ahead of her. It ends with the stirring (possibly spiritual) “Welcome Home,” a track that may just move you to tears as it describes the overwhelming joy of finding you’re way back to where you belong, to the unconditional love that awaits you there.

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Williams is an amazing vocalist, and that alone makes it worth checking out. But the production value of Venus isn’t lacking in any respect, either.  The instrumentation is first rate, what you would expect from someone who was partly responsible for the unique (dare I say, groundbreaking?) sound of The Civil Wars.

I could go song by song and express what I thought of each one, but no one’s interested in that. I’ll just leave you with this: if you love brilliant, transcending music, you just might owe it to yourself to give Joy Williams’ Venus a listen.  It’s one of those albums where every track is just so good. And that is a rare thing.

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