Don Williams - Reflections

Sugar Hill Records SUG-4096

In advance of a May UK tour Don Williams releases this latest album, some five years after his ‘retirement’ from the music business. I’m so pleased that the veteran country balladeer is still out there making music. REFLECTIONS is a great album from the 74-year-old, whose deep, rich voice sounds as vibrant and compelling as always. Amazingly, the quietly spoken Texan still commands a large and loyal following for his music, especially here in the UK. The secret of Don’s long-lasting success? Simplicity, perhaps. A devotion to the principle that a good tune deserves to be offered with the same melodic resolution intended by its composer. Here he offers several songs that I’ve long been familiar with like opener Townes Van Zandt’s I’ll Be Here In The Morning. You wonder why it’s taken ol’ Don so many years to finally get around to record a song that seems tailor-made for him. He turns in an enjoyable performance that seems relaxed, as if he were just revelling in the mood of the song without a care in the world. Mickey Raphael’s harmonica wafts in and out of the background like a will-o’the-wisp and the song’s melody is as comfortable and vital as a lazy Saturday morning spent with the family.

That opener sets the listener up for Talk Is Cheap, another familiar song that fits like a glove and in another time would’ve have been an instant chart-topper for ol’ Don. This one was penned by fellow Texan Guy Clark in collaboration with Chris Stapleton and his wife Morgane Hayes. The couple add delightful background vocals to that song and also Don’s revival of Merle Haggard’s Sing Me Back Home, which again features Raphael’s haunting harmonica work. The final song that I’m all too familiar with is Jesse Winchester’s If I Were Free, which like much of the album explores the male/female relationship with intelligence and a refreshing absence of trite perspective. This isn’t one of those songs that knocks your socks off immediately. Instead the slowly ingratiating hook gently reels you in with repeated listening. Don’s voice as always is a pleasure, as is Jesse’s ethereal harmony.

As well as hearing distinctive and impeccably performed versions of familiar songs, I love to discover well-written and performed songs that are new to me, and Don offers several here that really connected. It would seem that I Won’t Give Up On You could have been written specifically for him. He woos with romantic lyrics and a melancholy melody that is fleshed out with a weeping steel guitar and subtle electric lead arrangement. Even more impressive is the simple yarn of Healing Hands. This is a poignant ballad, the lyric is really touching, and Don delivers a skilled performance assisted by the gentle harmonies of three of the Isaacs (Sonya, Ben and Rebecca). Don Williams’ music as usual sounds good—you can put it on while making dinner—but if you have time for a careful listen—the deeper you look, the more you’ll find. So please excuse me as I absorb myself deeper into Don Williams’ thoughtful reflections.