Dar Williams might be one of the few singer-songwriters around who could take the age-old fables surrounding Zeus and Aphrodite, and smartly connect them to our current state of affairs. Her latest album, In the Time of Gods — due April 17 from Razor and Tie — ends up underscoring both the universal truths found in the mythology of our youth, and also the cyclic nature of our troubles.
The more you listen, the more her larger points start to make sense. But don’t get the idea that it’s easy. That wouldn’t be giving Williams, or her able cast of collaborators, enough credit. Shawn Colvin, Charley Drayton, Rob Hyman, Larry Campbell and producer Kevin Killen eased Williams’ way to the top of Mount Olympus: There’s a notably lean, live feel of things. In the Time of Gods, more than any Williams album I can recall, boasts a live-sounding instrumentation, something that adds a memorable tension to the proceedings.
Still, it is her steady, insightful voice that helps us understand the surrounding vistas — to complete the circle back to today’s world. And so Hermes, the Greek messenger of the dead, becomes a motorcycle rider on an epic journey. “Write This Number Down” uses the image of Athena (goddess of wisdom and courage) to craft a redemptive message of faith through difficult times. Elsewhere, Hephaestus, the god of artisans and blacksmiths, finds himself living amidst the entrepreneurial hum of Silicon Valley even as his wife (the god of beauty) is fooling around on him with the god of war.
Not all of the themes are so direct: “The Light and the Sea,” for instance, uses the image of the sea god Poseidon as a jumping off point to discuss the difficulties in setting our moral compass. The “Storm King” mentioned here is not some all-powerful Greek presence at all, but Pete Seeger — an inspirational figure (both in music and in life) who lives nearby.
All of it resonates with a lasting, grounded sense of grace, spirituality and steadfast belief in our communities — and, therefore, in ourselves.
Once filed away in the 1990s shorthand of Lilith Fair, Williams has word by word, song by song, constructed a stirring career that boasts as many moments of shuddering beauty as it does hard-eyed activism. It’s no different with In the Time of Gods, her first release since the retrospective Many Great Companions two years ago — and Williams’ initial new solo project since Promised Land four years back.
The wait was so very worth it.