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May 2, 2003

Dar Williams and friends wow the Vic crowd

A lonely guitar began to strum as the sweet caressing vocals of folk singer Dar Williams rang throughout the packed Vic Theater in Belmont. On tour for her new album, The Beauty of the Rain, Williams performed at the Vic on April 25 to a devoted crowd of fans who had eagerly awaited the release of her sixth album.

Before Williams took the stage, the audience was treated to an opening act by the Ben Taylor Band, whose lead singer is the son of folk icons James Taylor and Carly Simon. Taylor's voice is eerily similar to his father's, but his style couldn't be more different. With a jam band orchestration, Ben Taylor's songs ranged from folk to freestyle and rap songs about legalizing marijuana. Although his appearance, demeanor, and music hinted that he wished to be viewed and appreciated separately from his father, every note that he sang and every chord that he strummed only reemphasized the paternal influence. The highlight of the set was when Julie Wolf, keyboardist for Ani DiFranco, joined the band for a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Not Fade Away."

The show really began when Dar Williams took the stage, opening with "Fishing in the Morning," off the new album. While the song is mellow, one couldn't help but appreciate the accuracy and sweetness with which Williams sang it. Her voice hinted that the night would be full of magical moments. The majority of her set included songs from The Beauty of the Rain, but without all of the guest artists who appear on the album--including John Medeski, Alison Krauss, Stefan Lessard (the bassist for the Dave Matthews Band), John Popper of Blues Traveler, Bela Fleck, and violinist Michael Kang of the String Cheese Incident--making it a Who's Who among modern folk/pop icons.

One of Williams' most amazing qualities, besides her songwriting skills and beautiful vocals, is her ability to communicate with the audience. In between songs she told anecdotes which linked the themes of traveling and springtime to her repertoire. The song "Closer to Me" reflected on road trips she had in the past, and "Road Buddy," which she wrote for the major motion picture Smoke Signals, also told stories of voyages, both literal and figurative.

Other songs from the album which were included in the concert included "The Beauty of the Rain," "Farewell to Old Me," and "The One Who Knows." Each one had a story behind it, and each was eloquently sung. The cover of the Band's "Whispering Pines" was dedicated to her new husband, Michael. In the album liner notes, several lines are written about how the idea for a song began and how it developed.

The Beauty of the Rain is calm and mellow: less aggressive than some of her previous records. With the exception of one track, "Your Fire Your Soul," the album is a tranquil journey through the changing seasons, in particular the beginning of spring. This may not appeal to Dar Williams fans who are fond of her more aggressive anthems, such as "Iowa" and "And a God Descended." Both songs, coincidentally, were played as encores to her performance.

The band backed up Williams' vocals and guitar with precision and professionalism. Highlights included Julie Wolf on the keyboards and Steve Holley on drums. During the encore, Ben Taylor reappeared to perform a duet with Williams. The Beauty of the Rain, while certainly different from her earlier albums, is worth a close listen--if not for Williams' pure brilliance, then for all the guest artists who appear as pleasant highlights to each song.