may be the granddaughter of Hank Williams Sr.
, and the daughter of Hank Jr., but she is altogether her own singer-songwriter. With a hint of the twang that characterizes her family chords, Williams cuts herself a new path on her third full-length solo album, The Highway
. The vibe is considerably more Nashville folk-infused than the outlaw country of her half-brother Hank III or the mainstream country-pop over which Hank Jr. reigns. In fact, of all the Williams heirs, Holly is the one who seems to have been dazzled by the raw genre-defying talent which made her grandaddy a star.
Holly Williams Writes Spot-On Story Songs
In addition to being a great singer-songwriter, for one thing, Holly Williams is a fantastic story-teller. The Highway
is thick with story-songs, from the opener - "Drinkin'"
- to the final track, "Waiting on June"
. The former is the kind of everyday-feminist tale depicting a strong woman who finds herself in a situation she can't believe. "Why you cheating on a woman like this?" she asks, with all the raw wit which might come to mind when one finds herself in a situation she thought might only ever happen to other women.
There's a lot of that spirit of reaching from a place of strength toward some elusive promise. The title track feels mired in a home life Williams' narrator never wished on herself. Whether this is Williams talking or some character in her imagination, is irrelevant. She sings these songs like she's pulling them straight from her own beating heart.
"Railroads" (purchase/download) is another such story, taken from the perspective of a man who's still trying to outgrow his inner child. There's a need to prove himself but he always falls short, then takes to the rails like some character in a hobo tale, to find promise in some great beyond. "I hope that this old railroad delivers me," she sings, before moving out of the way for a fiddle to unfurl its fierce sawing lines. It's a creaky fiddle, like metal trains on steel rails. Well-poised and perfectly timed.
That Old Independent Spirit
After making a couple of singer-songwriter records for some of the Nashville majors, it's not entirely surprising that Holly Williams would have reeled it back in for an independent recording on her own Georgiana label. (The label was so named for the hometown of her grandfather) The whole disc feels like a bit of a hat-tip to Hank Williams Sr., like the kind of music he might be making if he were a 30-something guy trying to pull his weight in Nashville the early 21st Century. There are elements of mainstream country here - the fiddle and the pedal steel - but this is, above all else, a lyrical album. The instruments come in where they're needed, and stay away when their presence would be unnecessary. When the twang comes through, it's because the story feels country. (After all, these are stories about rural women and men - not for the sake of country cliche, but for the sake of just being honest.)
Holly, like her grandfather, was born in a small Alabama town before making her way as a singer-songwriter in Nashville. Like Hank Williams Sr., she cut her teeth in Music City bars before inking a deal with a major agency and going for the big time. A couple of years ago, I saw her take the stage at the Ryman Auditorium during the Grand Ole Opry, following in the bootsteps of her highly beloved family line.
But, while country music takes the legacy of Hank, Johnny, and Merle in one direction these days, Holly Williams is grabbing that legacy's other rein and taking it somewhere else altogether...into a folkier singer-songwriter realm. In the greater scheme of truth-telling singers, she's more focused on The Highway, in other words, than the pickup truck.