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"Railroads," laced as it is with woozy pedal steel guitar by Dan Dugmore, is one of the tracks that veers toward country twang, with Williams singing about how the alcoholism of a preacher is visited upon a son who struggles with his own drinking, watching his family disintegrate even as he expresses awareness of his behavior, pleading, "You never walked in my shoes, you never understood / Why I was escaping any way that I could." In "Drinkin'," which you can hear below, the narrator starts out questioning her romantic partner about his drinking, his fury, and his infidelities before she herself echoes some of that behavior after she and the kids split: "Mama took the kids and the money's all gone / And I'm here drinkin' like the night is young." "Giving Up," which is one of several tunes with a MOR slickness, doesn't soft-pedal its dark subject matter, as the narrator describes the hardship of a friendship with an alcoholic, and after years of trying to help, ends up throwing in the towel when she can't get through no matter what.
Not all of the songs are so bleak. "Without You" is a bit of a romantic Hallmark card, with Williams recalling Kerouac-inspired days busking around Europe, searching for meaning and love "Before I was open, before I knew I couldn't live a day / Without you." She's a fine singer and a strong band plays behind her; the record was produced by Charlie Peacock, and most of the players are slightly outside Nashville studio pros. She also enlisted a few names to gussy up the album's appeal, but the presence of Jackson Browne, Jakob Dylan, Dierks Bentley, and, ahem, Gwyneth Paltrow does little to make the music better. Williams plays SPACE in Evanston on Wednesday.
Satanique Samba Trio, Bad Trip Simulator #1 (no label)
Nate Wooley, Scott R. Looney, Damon Smith, and Weasel Walter, Scowl (UgExplode)
Heddy Boubaker, Mathias Pontevia and Nusch Werchowska, A Floating World (Mikroton)
Alhaji Amuda, Itan Baba Elesin (African Songs)
Paolo Angeli and Takumi Fukushima, Itsunomanika (ReR)