On Second Listen: Kathryn Williams and Neill MacColl – Two

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    On the heels of her sixth solo outing, Leave to Remain, Kathryn Williams tied the musical knot with Neill MacColl and birthed the fittingly titled Two. The album is full of co-this and co-that. Knowing Williams was raised on Joni Mitchell and falls into the folk category, Two could easily be labeled in shorthand “The Weepies”; however, Two is not enough pop and polish to make a one-to-one comparison. The harmonies aren’t tight enough; the tracks are rosy demos. This is not to say Two is sloppy. Two is unpolished in the way Joan Baez singing with Bob Dylan was.

    Two has taken its sweet time getting across the Atlantic. It was originally released on March 3rd, 2008, and wasn’t released in North America until earlier this summer. Nettwerk came to the rescue, allowing right-side drivers everywhere to partake. The wait is worth it for tracks such as “Innocent When You Dream”. If the title seems familiar, it might be because it was originally penned by none other than Tom Waits. Williams and MacColl do the track justice. The waltz is held in time by an acoustic guitar and nothing more.

    By in large, the two share vocals; however, over the swoon and buzz of “Grey Goes”, Williams alone handles the track. The slide of the guitar and the pluck of the upright bass (not to mention the bluster of the trumpet) would have spelled disaster for a duet. MacColl does butt in intermittently on the chorus to fill out a line or two. The instrumentation, lightly cacophonous, could be mistaken for the early work of Robert Deeble (back when he had Victoria Williams guesting).

    Two will most likely garner a yawn at one point or another throughout the runtime, but when Williams and MacColl click, as on the highlight “Armchair”, sit up and take note. Like any good folk song of yore, there’s a catch or twist to the lyrics, something to switch on a smile or pull a nod. “Armchair” comes through in this regard, starting innocently with “Love me like an armchair” before coming later to the punchline of “I’ll sweeten you like sugar / When the world has been fucking with you.” The intermingling of the mundane: “armchair”, the overused: “sugar”, and the crass: “fuck”, makes the wit of “Armchair” worthy of quotes on blogs, on binders, and on notes left after a hard day at work.

    While there aren’t enough tracks like “Armchair” to make Two a must have, it does add to the weighty catalogue of Williams. We’ll see if the pairing holds. If history holds true, don’t hold your breath: Williams has made a career of changing and developing her sound. Don’t expect her to keep doing the same thing over and over again. Two may be a one off, but it stands on its own as such rather well.

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