Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Don Williams "Reflections" Album Review

     Country music's "Gentle Giant" has returned with a new collection of songs entitled Reflections.  The title is extremely appropriate, as the grizzled veteran of the country music ranks has reached a point where he can sit back and reflect on what he has done and what he has learned.  The result is an intimate and effective grouping of pearls of wisdom.  This is no gimmick, no detours, no frills country music by a man who has seen and done it all, and we all need to take the time to listen.

     Don Williams has always had a very laid-back style to his music.  It is always as country as you can get, but never at a breakneck tempo with distractions or bells and whistles.  Don Williams is a lyrics man.  His songs tell stories and give advice on how to live and how not to live.  At this point in Don's career, he is fully embracing his status as a legacy act.  He isn't releasing a rap album to try to get back on the radio.  He isn't pushing a heavy agenda of marketing.  He is simply recording the music he wants to make, just as he has always done.  He has always been full of class and grace, so the fact that he is aging gracefully is no surprise.  But this isn't just an aging legend who sounds tired and is missing the spark, this is some of the best work of Don's career,  He sounds great and is still at the very top of his game.

     The album kicks off with a cover of the slightly obscure Townes Van Zandt song "I'll Be Here In The Morning".  This is a perfect way to set the path this album takes you on.  There is a constant theme that goes through this whole record: wisdom.  "Talk Is Cheap", which Alan Jackson covered on his last album as well, gives advice on meaning what you say and living instead of talking.  He covers the great Merle Haggard song "Sing Me Back Home", as he looks at life and death through the eyes of prisoners on death row.  The song is one of the Hag's best written, and for a man with the discography he has, that is saying a lot.  Don takes it and makes it his own, not straying from the original too much, but adding some warmth and tenderness that his voice brings to every song.  "Working Man's Son" is a look back on a life well lived, and fits perfectly with the album's title.  "Stronger Back" is a prayer for the strength to deal with tough situations.  Rather than asking to end the bad times, he simply asks to be able to pull through them.  "I don't pray for a lighter load, I pray for a stronger back" he sings.  That is the result of a man who has been through it and knows what it takes.  "Back To The Simple Things" is probably the most indicative of the theme of this album, as Don reflects on the way the world has changed and the struggle to keep life simple among today's distractions.  He carries that right into "The Answer", as he admits after giving advice for the majority of his album that he doesn't have all the answers, and that nobody does.  Humility is the surest sign of wisdom.

     The album never gets really loud and fast paced, but never too slow and plodding.  It is all mid-tempo, laid back country music.  It is perfect for a campfire or relaxing night by the fireplace.  In a world where the backing tracks are becoming more and more the focus of music, Don reminds us that country music was built on strong lyrics and great stories.  I really enjoyed the arrangement on "I'll Be Here In The Morning" particularly,  It has a steady beat that is perfect for long night trips, and a soft harmonica mixed with banjo to create a warm atmosphere.  The whole album follows that same formula, but "I'll Be Here In The Morning" really does it best.

     Many of today's country songs speak of this mythical grandpa figure that is full of wisdom and knowledge that they learned everything from.  I wonder how many of them realize that we have that very figure right in here in the flesh, and actually take the time to listen.  Take some time to slow down and listen to what Don has to say.   Go fishing with your family and play this album.  Spend a night in a cabin by the fireplace or have a little bonfire and listen to this.  It will take you back to a simpler time, and help you focus on the things that matter most: faith, family, love, and living for the moment.  Don Williams is making the best music of his career right now, and we are all better for having heard it.

Standout Tracks: "I'll Be Here In The Morning", "Talk Is Cheap", "Sing Me Back Home", "Stronger Back, "Back To The Simple Things"

"I'll Be Here In The Morning"

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