Bridging the gap between the folk of Shawn Colvin and the crossover pop of Kim Richey, Dar Williams has always been an endearing and popular artist. Out There Live, recorded during the tour to support previous album The Green Room, confirms this opinion as well as cementing her reputation as a first-rate live performer. Culling the best material from her four critically acclaimed albums, Out There Live shines where many live albums fail, by making the listener a part of the intimacy and atmosphere of the performance itself. This is largely achieved with a minimum of studio overdubbing and tweaking of the actual material, but more notably by William’s frequent humorous ramblings and introductions to her irresistible songs.
During one such monologue for “The Babysitter’s Here”, Williams describes at length her childhood affection for the subject of the song before launching into a tune that bursts with humour and touching emotion at every turn. Long-term fans already know Williams is a storyteller of some repute, but “The Christians and the Pagans” also shows her lyrical perception in a song about difference and unity that could be a lesson for humanity during the forthcoming months: “The Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table / finding faith and common ground as best as they were able”.
Another Williams’ anthem, “As Cool as I Am”, opens the disc with such breathtaking pace and rapturous applause that it appears proceedings have reached their plateau already. However, the gentle “If I Wrote You” dispels that theory and showcases Williams’ extraordinary voice to maximum effect.
Although a self confessed nervous performer, it seems the singer/songwriter’s faultless band (with guitarist Steuart Smith particularly worthy of praise) has given her a new confidence, and the telepathy between them is particularly evident on the wonderful “I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono”. The material continues to skip from the uptempo and breezy “Better Things” and “What Do You Hear in These Sounds?”, to the naked beauty of “When I Was a Boy” and “February”, with the sea shanty “The Ocean” adding to the diversity.
Williams may be difficult to pigeonhole in today’s music scene, but the fact remains that, as one of the most expressive songwriters of her generation, she should always have an audience for her songs. She may have progressed from the coffee-houses to the theatres a while ago, but Out There Live makes a strong case to suggest that her audience will continue to expand.