Being trendy seems like an absolutely exhausting, if not thoroughly disheartening, pursuit. Even if you are a trend-setter, as soon as a certain phase passes, there is evidence in the world that may come to be embarrassing for you. (Is there anyone from Gen X donning acid wash in its second coming? No way. We figured out it was ugly after its first run.) That law of logic applies not only to clothes, but to haircuts, language, and, of course, music, as well. Moral of the story: If you stick to the classics in any given category, you will always be in style and in step with the times.
That’s the tack Joy Williams takes with her new Front Porch album. She deploys her crystalline voice and well-crafted songs wrapped in simple, timeless production to get all her points across. And she succeeds — greatly — proving that less isn’t always more, but it is very often quite enough.
Produced by Kenneth Pattengale and engineered by Matt Ross-Spang, Front Porch was envisioned as a batch of tunes that could be sung in the simplest of settings and that’s what it is. That she recorded while pregnant with her second child may well lend to the tender and intimate feeling of the set. All of that stands in stark contrast to her last effort, Venus, which wandered more extensively around pop terrain.
Here on her Front Porch, though, Williams feels rather more settled, though still seeking — like the moment after a long-overdue exhale in which you take stock of where you are now and shift gears to where you are headed. That’s because life never stops being lived. And, in between the minutes and months, things happen: Kids grow, careers shift, partners leave, and parents pass.
On the album’s opener, “Canary,” Williams does the dark and defiant Appalachian thing really quite well, for a kid from Northern California. But that’s just scene setting. From there on, she softens her stance for the title track, “The Trouble with Wanting,” and “When Does a Heart Move On,” all three of which tackle, with more than a little forgiveness and compassion, the idea of a partner having left. Further in, Williams pays tribute to her father in “Preacher’s Daughter.”
Taken together, all these musical moments add up to a singer/songwriter more intent (and content) to share her heart than to chase a trend. And that’s a style that beautifully suits Joy Williams.