By Helen Jerome
This almost faultless debut from 22-year-old Sam Williams has so many fine collaborations and great songs that it's certainly been worth the wait.
Let’s be brutally honest. With some male country singers, you could swap one out for another and not even notice; their voices often sounding virtually identical. But with Sam Williams, it’s different - he really doesn’t sound like anyone else. He always wears his heart on his sleeve and isn’t afraid to reveal how he’s doing. Just like his grandfather, country legend Hank Williams, and his outlaw dad Hank Jr, Sam Williams is his own distinctive artist – and he’s finally delivered his much-anticipated debut album, mainly produced by Jaren Johnston of the Cadillac Three. Let me tell you, it’s been worth the wait.
The ambition and sweep of this record is obvious from the first track, ‘Glasshouse Children’, with its gorgeous, immersive vocals that drip with emotion. The production feels epic yet intimate, Williams’ voice front and centre and singing of hidden bottles, wasted dollars and painful feelings. With string quartet and piano at the fore, this gem was penned with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and Ronnie Bowman.
For Williams himself, ‘Happy All The Time’ is the key song here, posing the idea that if money could buy happiness he’d “be happy all the time.” The real coup, though, is the immaculate backing vocals from none other than Dolly Parton herself. Williams wrote her a long letter on an old typewriter to ask if she’d like to sing with him, and she said she’d be honoured to record on ‘Happy’. From that moment onwards, the bar was raised and Williams aimed to have an album of songs powerful enough to stand alongside it.
Luckily, Williams already had some superb songs up his sleeve, including ‘Can’t Fool Your Own Blood’, the now-familiar single release. The passion is barely contained in his voice as he evokes mature sentiment in his belief that his grandfather would have regretted passing away at just 29, when Hank Jr was only three. With a three-year-old son himself, Sam Williams can definitely relate, yet also knows he prizes being a father even more so being an artist.
‘Bullet Blues’ is a quiet, laidback number, one where Williams duets with Ben Roberts as they sing of drowning in shame. Temptation brews as a couple go down to the river, find a waterfall, jump in and get soaking wet – all neat imagery for their passion, as the chiming guitar and explosive drums propel the song.
Not to be beaten by Dolly’s appearance, ‘Kids’ has Keith Urban giving it loads on electric guitar while Charlie Worsham backs him on acoustic. More poppy and jaundiced, the track's lyrics observe clichéd lives and fake love, with a wish to escape such surroundings. The narrator looks askance at those he’s grown apart from, heading towards a future of cheating, college and money.
The contrast in sentiment is remarkable as the album closes. On ‘Hopeless Romanticism’ Williams talks of fighting against fate, narcissism, having his heart ripped out and falling in love every day. Meanwhile, ‘The World: Alone’ is choked with extreme emotion, as he finds himself on a beach in Barcelona alone, wanting to meet in Rome and aiming to “show you the world”. It's a tragic and poignant message for his beloved late sister Katie, who passed away just as Williams was bringing the making of the album to a close.
In short, this almost faultless debut from 22-year-old Sam Williams has so many fine collaborations and great songs, it makes you sit up, listen and feel eager to hear whatever he gets up to next.
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