"In the Time of Gods," Dar Williams (Razor & Tie)
There are points during Dar Williams' albums that you get tired of all the earnestness and the seriousness. At her worst, she's like one of those people you run into at parties who bums you out telling you about an important cause or her own sad story. You just want to say "You know, even Ghandi probably knew how to lighten up and tie one on every now and then, right?"
At her best, though, Williams can skewer you with a line or a visual picture. She can make you laugh and drive an important point home at the same time. At her very best, she is one of the premier folk singer-songwriters in the game.
Her classics include "The Babysitter's Here," "You're Aging Well," "As Cool As I Am" and "The Christians and the Pagans" — the last one being one of the best Christmas songs of the past 30 years.
Williams' new album, "In the Time of Gods," begins by proving just that.
In three and a half minutes, the opening track, "I Am the One Who Remembers Everything," creates a picture of a war refugee child that's as catchy as its story is hard to shake. Williams' hints of the horrors the child has encountered. But it's the image of reading "Curious George" at the end of the song that unexpectedly gets to you:
"... And in a world that's angry, cruel and furious/there's this monkey who's just curious/floating high about the park with bright balloons..."
The other highlight of the disc is less ambitious. "I Have Been Around the World" is the sort of sweet and straightforward love song that is rare for Williams, making it all the more welcome and effective. "Write This Number Down" is less rare, but the strident stand-up-for-justice number is a nice rallying song.
Elsewhere, Williams is likable and listenable, but if you were at that party with this album there are times you'd need to step away and get another, stiffer, drink.
"Out of the Game," Rufus Wainwright (Decca)
When Rufus Wainwright's "Out of the Game" begins it's easy think: "This is the type of album Rufus had needed to make for a while."
It's breezy pop music far afield from the indulgent, emotional (and sometimes brilliant) songs that gave Wainwright his early critical acclaim.
On much of "Out of the Game," Wainwright is referencing Elton John and other older pop singer-songwriters, although it still comes out with Wainwright's peculiar bent.
Unfortunately, though, Wainwright didn't go back to John's grittier, classic material for inspiration. It sounds like he was listening to "Blue Moves."
Like that disc, "Out of the Game" feels like it's made by a craftsman rather than an artist. Wainwright's first three albums, espicially "Want One," were indulgent, but they were full of passion.
"Out of the Game" has moments ("Candles," the haunting closer, for instance) but, overall, you just wish Wainwright sounded like he cared.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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