Victoria Williams

Water to Drink (Atlantic)

Though she's been at it for years, Victoria Williams is probably better known as a celebrity with an illness than she is as a visionary writer and performer. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1992, Williams first caught massive media attention when Lou Reed, Pearl Jam, and a slew of other stars recorded Sweet Reliefto help pay her medical bills. That record introduced a lot of folks to the wonders of Victoria's world.

Capitalizing on the momentum of that project, Williams promptly released Loose, a magnificent collection of songs that cemented her reputation as a songwriter extraordinaire. After a so-so live album, she issued Musings of a Creekdipper and has recently been involved with hubby (and ex-Jayhawk) Mark Olson in the similarly named Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers. Originally from Louisiana, Williams has been associated with the L.A. music scene since the late '80s and currently resides in Joshua Tree, California. She recorded Water to Drink at her new home studio, recruiting stalwarts such as Greg Leisz, Petra Hayden, Don Heffington, D.J. Bonebrake, and Van Dyke Parks to help with the instrumentation. The results are stunning, melding her own songs with a couple of standards.

Williams is a master at combining drama with levity, and the lead number, "Grandma's Hat Pin," is no exception. The title track is a cover of an Antonio Carlos Jobim song, and the Latin-flavored tune somehow fits Williams' quirky style; likewise her takes on two standards, "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" and "Young at Heart." She's traveled this road before, most spectacularly on Loose's cover of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." Williams effortlessly wraps her little-girl voice around these songs and makes them her own.

Any Victoria Williams album has more than its share of gems: Water has "Gladys and Lucy," "You Can Be (Light the Lamp)," "Lagniappe," "A Little Bit of Love," and "Junk." What other performer would sing a song about a squirrel ("Claude")?

That Williams continues to prosper in spite of her personal troubles is a testament to her incredible talent and will; she may never achieve the commercial success that many lesser lights have, but her music will continue to be discovered by those with taste for many years to come.

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