Dar Williams with special guest Lindi Ortega
Mar 16, 2019 at 8:00 PM
Minors OK when accompanied by a parent or guardian
Doors open at 7:00
Dar Williams is one of the most lauded singer/songwriters of her generation. Her poignant lyrical commentary and beautiful musical arrangements have entranced the music world for more than two decades.
Every new album from Dar Williams represents her thoughts and feelings about both her own life and larger forces in the world. But her ninth studio record, Emerald, marks a particularly dramatic confluence between her experiences and broader contemporary culture—and what it means to be a songwriter at this moment in history.
In the past few years, Williams has been involved in a wide range of different efforts and projects: teaching a course titled “Music Movements in a Capitalist Democracy” at her alma mater, Wesleyan University; working with children at several summer camps; leading songwriting workshops; getting involved with the workings of her village; and writing a book about the ways she’s seen towns becoming more independent and prosperous over her twenty years of touring.
In addition, in the face of dramatic transformations in the music industry, she is releasing Emerald on her own after choosing to part ways with Razor & Tie, her label for almost twenty years. “It’s like the record business is a giant building that collapsed,” says Williams, “but when the building is destroyed, you get to see what remains. And this incredible structure of the music and the friendships that I have is all still there. Seeing that led to a decision to record songs with themes about relationships and connections — I wanted to write songs for my friends and about my friends.”
If friendship and human connection lie at the heart of Emerald, Williams had to put these ideas to a very real test when she decided to crowd-fund the making of the album through Pledge Music. While it was an adjustment getting used to sharing as much as possible from the album’s sessions with her fans and followers, she enjoyed the opportunities for interaction. “Pledge for me is like swimming in a pool,” she says. “My fans are smarter than I am, I like being around them, so I said, ‘Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it.’ When we started thinking about, ‘How do you want to fundraise for the album?,’ it was actually a very fun discussion. I heard that people want to know about the recording process. I had kind of forgotten the wonderful Alice in Wonderland feeling of first coming into the studio twenty years ago, and the Pledge campaign reminded me.”
It’s a cliché that the personal is the political, but for Dar Williams, there really is no separating her life from her worldview. And in the face of a shifting world, she is more aware than ever of the power this approach can create. “I’m now experiencing the fruits of the alternative culture I was part of in the ‘90s,” she says. “I think I’ve made choices about how I lived my life, outside of the world that was going to fit me among the mainstream norms, and I chose to stay with my friends, to stay with my culture. “That turns out to have been the sturdiest structure I could have built for myself. And that’s in my songs, it’s in my teaching. I’m a believer in what can happen when we make music together.” more >>>
“I think the most important thing for me was that I ended on a very positive note because I’ve had so many people tell me that my songs helped them through really hard times in their life,” Ortega says. “That struck a chord for me, because just like everybody else, I have had hard times in my life, and continue to have pockets of difficult moments here and there. If I can provide some sort of solace with my music, then that gives me every reason to make music. I wanted this record to be all about helping people through the darkness.”
The melodies and arrangements of “Liberty” draw on the epic work of Oscar-winning composer Ennio Morricone, who became one of Ortega’s musical obsessions during the writing and recording of “Liberty”. Moreover she enlisted Nashville producer Skylar Wilson (Justin Townes Earle, Rayland Baxter) when she discovered their shared passion for Quentin Tarantino movies. It is fitting that NPR’s All Things Considered has described Ortega as “genre-defying in both her music and her personal style.”
During the sessions at Battle Tapes studio in East Nashville, Ortega and Wilson scaled back the boot-stomping, throwback country approach that she’s known for, instead polishing a set of music that reflects her lineage. Her father is Mexican; her mother is Irish. The sonic landscape of “Liberty” is enhanced by Nashville band Steelism, known for their dramatic blend of pedal steel guitar and electric guitar, as well as Country Music Hall of Fame member Charlie McCoy on harmonica.
In 2017, Ortega opened select dates for Chris Stapleton and Dwight Yoakam. In addition, she married Canadian musician Daniel Huscroft and relocated from Nashville to Calgary.
“Liberty” concludes with “Gracia a la Vida” from the pen of Chilean composer Violetta Parra. The title translates as “Thank you to Life.”
“Even though I always tried to have a silver lining, whether it’s by making my songs tongue-in-cheek, or writing some dark lyrics to happy music, there’s always been an element of balancing light and dark on my previous albums,” Ortega explains. “But this is a full story, and I wanted everybody to be able to take something away from it at the end of the day.” more >>>