Kathryn Williams – Relations

Kathryn Williams - Relations

Indie-folk, singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams released this self-produced album of covers this past autumn on One Little Indian. Kathryn has a light, warm touch where the bittersweet to melancholic lyrics of other artists turn sweeter and hopeful, and the resulting batch of songs is pleasant, but lightweight in tone.  Spare, picked acoustic guitar and strings accompany Kathryn’s light, airy, and clear vocals, creating a mostly placid and mellow vibe.

The main reason for an artist to cover other artists’ songs is the chance to reinterpret them and bring them to life in a unique, heretofore unheard way (Well, unless the cover artist is going for a faithful recreation of the original song, but where’s the fun in that?).  The challenge is to invigorate the original and make it sound fresh, pushing the song, as well as the artist, to change and create something new.  Another reason (or at least result with most artists’ cover songs) is to stamp the original tune in the “image” of the rest of the artist’s discography.

Relations falls into the latter category, so that while Kathryn’s song picks are faultless (Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and Nirvana, among others), she applies the same alt-folk instrumentation and vocal intonation of her previous work, keeping up a delicate, mild sonic flow that, for the most part, doesn’t add any new interpretation to the originals.

Kathryn’s version of Big Star’s “Thirteen” is fragile and fly-away and nowhere near as ruefully seductive as Shirley Manson’s vocals on Garbage’s take of the tune.  The emotional fireworks are dampened on Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah” with a sedate pace of gently picked guitars, low strings, and unperturbed vocals.  This song comes off as a lullaby instead of a desperate cry and makes one yearn for Jeff Buckley’s heartfelt rendition.

Kathryn does bring in doubled, harmonizing vocals on occasion, like on “The Ballad of Easy Rider”, where one vocal line is in a higher range, adding some dimension to the song.  “A Guy that Takes His Time” catches a spark with its bluesy, back porch vibe of washboard, spoons, and guitar strum.  Kathryn’s vocal delivery is casual and more knowing, as opposed to her innocent demeanor found on most other songs. Speaking of which, Kathryn comes off too innocent and light on The Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says” with the guitar and strings at least adding a melancholic feel.  Try the perpetually-distressed Beth Gibbon’s (or even Shirley Manson’s) take instead.

Nirvana gets the cover treatment for “All Apologies” and Kathryn attempts to stretch out on this one, adding some faster-paced intrigue with string frisson at the start, plucked guitar strings, tambourine hits, and on ‘n’ off guitar agitation, but her vocals aren’t lively enough and stay in a monochromatic range.