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By Andrew Lee for Easy Street Records
Until this album I knew Joy Williams only as the female half of the Civil Wars, an Americana duo known for having their own little wars between themselves. Interesting that she should mark her return to a solo career with an opening track that samples Robert Frost, one of the great “Americana” poets of the twentieth century, a man who was probably no stranger to conflict, who has the words “I had a lover's quarrel with the world” engraved on his gravestone.
Notice the album cover - the photograph suggests a woman exposed, surrounded by darkness, and if I remember anything from my film study classes, when a character is covered with those horizontal shadow lines from the venetian blinds, they might be feeling internally divided or conflicted.
Notice the album title - Venus - the Goddess of Love, the brightest star in the sky - and a fun coincidence that the planet Venus completed a rare double star conjunction with Jupiter on the evening of June 30th, the release date for this album in North America.
Conflict, poetry, planetary conjunction coincidences - it’s all very well and good, but what about the music on this album? Well it’s more poppy and electronic and produced than the Civil Wars, but some of that trademark rootsiness and rusticity is still there. The music and vocals are beautiful and tasteful and thoughtful throughout, though at times a sort of earth mother “I’m gonna put a spell on you” kind of dark intensity creeps in. "I am woman, hear me roar" and all that.
In multiple interviews Joy Williams has discussed the album's themes in relation to being a woman and has quoted the line "I am a universe wrapped in skin" as one of her favorites. And it's this kind of exploration of the interplay between darkness and light that stamps this album as a memorable work worthy of repeated listening - though it's pretty enough for mass audiences, Venus is no puff piece designed to blow away and be forgotten. Hopefully other women, and all lovers of great music, will be listening for a long time.
On VENUS she changes all that. No longer content to just conjure the antique grace of some mythic, bygone world, Williams was intent to actually pierce the veil of metaphor and an imagined history and tell a more honest, human story of one woman s journey out of darkness.
Over 11 unstintingly honest songs, she unabashedly re-counts what occurred in her life over the past two and a half years. She doesn't try to defend or explain, but in-stead tells a simple straightforward story of events, sparing no one, especially herself.
Over the arc of the album, the listener can feel Williams coming home to herself, after fearlessly excavating all the pain and confusion. In the end she can see her life from a great altitude, able to view her choices as an overarching geography that finally makes sense to her, freeing her to become the woman she needed to be. To find the parts of herself that were broken, becoming stronger and content to just be.
You might call it a coming-of-age album, but it is so much more than that. It shows how one woman has come to live her truth the good, the bad, the petulant, the honorable and in the end, shows all of us how to live our own.