Dar Williams – The Beauty of the Rain (2003)

One day back in 1996, I was on my way to work and heard this terrific song … about a kid playing in the backyard? Refusing to wear a shirt? Huh?! It’s a girl? What the hell?! This turned out to be “When I Was A Boy” from Dar Williams’ The Honestly Room. The song was played at the beginning of a set on a local college radio station (thank you WERS) … so after arriving at work I spend another 15 minutes or so waiting in the parking lot, praying for a setlist. It was worth the wait.

I don’t normally care all that much about lyrics. If the music doesn’t “rock” then the lyrics can’t save the song. “When I Was a Boy” did both. A picture was painted of youth in transition, layed over a bed of pretty fingerstyle guitar, sung by a voice … mmmmm, that voice.

There was no sophomore slump for Dar as Mortal City brought us the hilarious “Christians and the Pagans” as well as the heart-rending “February.” Every one of her recordings, including the side project Cry, Cry, Cry has contained several gems.

Which brings us to The Beauty of the Rain. The list of guest artists made me a little nervous. John Medeski, Cliff Eberhardt, John Popper, Bela Fleck, Chris Botti (to name a few): all fine musicians. But there have been far too many great records flattened under the combined weight of the hired hands.

Not so here.

The highlight for me is the stunning cover of The Band’s “Whispering Pines” … with a tear-inducing harmony vocal by Alison Krauss.

If I had to pick a favorite among the original tunes it would be the title track. I could explain it myself, but Dar’s liner notes do it better:

I love New York City, because when I eavesdrop on people, they’re often in the middle of some important discussion. Adversity is a given, but conversation renders poetry from it, hence “the beauty of the rain is how it falls.”

It’s not often that I would pick a recording several slots into an artist’s career as recommendation for the uninitiated … but that rule goes away here. the beauty of the rain is a great place to start. Work your way backwards. It’ll be fun.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.