In the time of Dar Williams
Dar Williams’ range of interests is wide enough that the idea of an album loosely based on Greek mythology should not be surprising.
However, complete knowledge of the classics isn’t required to enjoy the 10 new songs on “In the Time of the Gods” says the songwriter, who plays the Redmoor Saturday night.
“The hope is that (fans) wouldn’t have to know anything about Greek mythology,” Williams says. “There are a very few specific reference, but I wouldn’t have it there if it didn’t apply. It’s more of a perspective than a specific story, but I think if you have a specific story it’s kind of an ‘a-ha’ moment.”
Those moments have helped fuel Williams’ popularity over her 20-year career. Williams has peeked into and probed the human condition on eight studio records, which is a nice run for the Wesleyan University grad who describes herself as “a writer who happens to play music.
“There’s a part of me that thought I was going to be like Emily Dickinson up in a garret in an attic. I really didn’t think that I would have such a social, just a beautiful career.”
In retrospect, it seems inevitable. Fans aren’t the only people who like Williams; she’s popular with her fellow musicians as well. Her 2010 album, “Many Great Companions,” celebrates collaborations with people such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gary Louris, Patty Larkin and Sara and Sean Watkins.
She teamed with Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky for 1998’s “Cry, Cry, Cry” project that covered great contemporary songs. She has a long musical relationship with Rob Hyman (Joan Osborne’s “One of Us”), who co-wrote four songs on “Gods.”
“I’m very lucky that God made me a beta (personality), not an alpha,” Williams laughs. “When I walk into a room, I don’t need to dominate it, I want to collaborate with it. I like to walk into a room and think ‘Wow, we’ve got 20 different kinds of people here, some of them are Democrats, some of them are Republicans, some play banjo, some play drums; what can we make of this?
“That’s kind of the way my mind works, so it’s perfect for making music or collaborative projects. Musicians get together and do other things besides make music. Sometimes we put on big events and and I love being part of those things, too. ... It’s a very human-scale profession and I just love how it’s brought me eye-to-eye with lots of different kinds of humans. And yeah, that suits me.”
It suits her well indeed. Shawn Colvin sings on “The Light and the Sea” on the new album, but when Williams previewed some songs in New York earlier this year, she asked Allison Moorer to join her and told this tale about meeting the singer, who is Steve Earle’s wife.
“It was like inviting a sunbeam onto the stage, she just has this sunniness on a cloudy day,” Williams says. “I had kind of a girl crush on her (laughing), she was very attractive, and she was more or less a new friend.
“I had met her at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco and we bonded immediately. When we got off the stage, ‘I’m a little out of sorts these days because I’m pregnant.’ ”
Those are things that people feel they can tell Williams soon after meeting her. That empathy comes through in her songs and in her life.
“I think there is something collaborative going on in the United States right now,” she says. “That’s what I get to see (on the road). It’s everywhere ... There’s a lot more community gardening, everyone is outside more, and when they’re outside, they talk to people as (regular) folks.
“It doesn’t suit me to feel like I’m different than everybody else.”
She might not be different than everybody else, but she does write better songs, and when she sings them, she sounds like a goddess.
Dar Williams with Ellery, 8 p.m. Saturday, the Redmoor, 3187 Linwood Ave., Mount Lookout. $40, $30 in advance. 513-871-6789; jbmpromotions.com; theredmoor.com.
Email Bill Thompson