Dar Williams: Many Great Companions

Dar Williams: Many Great Companions
For the past two decades, Dar Williams has been America’s premier chanteuse. Her mixture of country and folk has drawn comparisons to a modern Joan Baez. On her eighth studio album, Many Great Companions Williams re-records her classic songs acoustically with the help of some special guests. The album also comes with a Best of Dar Williams bonus CD.
Whenever artists release CD’s like this, it always screams of desperation. Most recently, Reel Big Fish released a CD of re-recorded greatest hits to combat their old label releasing a best of compilation. Other bands like R.E.M. have become greatest hit and live album machines due to record label pressure to recoup some money on a large recording contract. Dar Williams does not really seem to have these problems. The album could be an attempt to make a relevant greatest hits album. With the rise of iTunes, listeners no longer have to wait for record labels to decide what should be included on a great hits album, people can now make their own easily. By re-recording what she thinks is her greatest hits, Dar Williams takes control of her greatest hits both from record labels as well as from fans.
The newly acoustic recorded first disc does a fairly good job establishing itself as its own album rather than a simply alternate recordings of greatest hits. Most striking is the re-recording of “Iowa” which features Sara and Sean Watkins from Nickel Creek, Motherlode and Mary Chapin Carpenter. With all those voices coming together, “Iowa” comes to a startling beautiful crescendo of harmonies that is greater than anything the original offered.
I wonder if that is why “Iowa” is not offered on the greatest hits second disc. Other songs populate both discs; The songs “As Cool As I Am”, “The Babysitter’s Here”, “If I Wrote You”, “The One Who Knows”, “Spring Street”, and “When I Was A Boy” appear on both discs. At least the first disc version of “The One Who Knows” features Mary Chapin Carpenter and “When I Was a Boy” features Patty Larkin. But overall, the greatest hits disc really feels like it should be the main draw here with the re-recordings being add-ons to it, not the other way around.
My main problem with the re-recordings is they are all just Dar Williams and an acoustic guitar except where guests contribute additional vocals. There is only so much you can listen to a woman and an acoustic guitar before everything starts to sound the same. Very few songs really stand out from the disc except for the excellent re-recording of “Iowa” and the peppiest song on the album “As Cool As I Am”.
In the end, the only thing Many Great Companions proved to me is that Dar Williams is better with a full band than solo. Lyrically and musically, she is a good but production value enhances that talent into a listenable and interesting package.
Rating: 6.9/10
MP3: Dar Williams featuring Gary Louris of The Jayhawks “As Cool As I Am”
Buy: iTunes