PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Robin and Linda Williams: Radio Songs

Radio Songs is a time capsule as much as a music collection, capturing specific moments from the past decade and songs from long ago.


Robin and Linda Williams

Radio Songs

Label: Red House
US Release Date: 2007-11-06
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Garrison Keillor's variety show A Prairie Home Companion evokes different reactions in me depending upon the type of segment on when I tune in. The humorous skits make me hastily and forcefully turn the radio off, annoyed that public radio lives up to its reputation for corniness. Keillor's stories of life in the fictional Lake Wobegon may get me to stay, depending on my mood. But the music always hooks me. Whether it's Keillor, with his lovably everyday voice, singing or a guest, the musical portion of the show is in touch with the rich country, folk, bluegrass and gospel heritage of America.

Robert Altman's film version of A Prairie Home Companion drew much of its emotional force from the choice to focus on the musical side of the show, over the skits. Along with its stable of Hollywood actors, the film featured radio show "regulars". Among them were Robin and Linda Williams, a husband-and-wife duo whose first appearance on the show was in 1975, the year after its debut. The Williams' first album together was also released in 1975. After that they released another 17 albums and appeared on the show numerous times. Radio Songs, their 19th release, summarizes that side of their career by collecting together 19 performances that aired on A Prairie Home Companion, during nine shows recorded between 1995 and 2005.

Radio Songs is a time capsule as much as a music collection, then. It captures specific moments at particular places and times. The places include historic venues like The Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, the nearly 100-year-old theater where the radio show debuted, and the immortal Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. The musicians playing with the duo depended on who else was on the show that day. They're joined by Mountain Heart, by Pete Seeger's half-brother Mike Seeger, by the show's house band Guy's All-Star Shoe Band, by Keillor himself. And the music itself is a look towards the past, either in style or actual heritage. The songs reflect the history of American folk music. One song, "I'll Twine Mid the Ringlets", dates to 1860. Others are undated traditional songs, or numbers by legendary songwriters like A.P. Carter or Charlie Poole. And the songs written by the Williams themselves are in this same vein, with an understanding of not just the musical style but also the human concerns of the songs themselves.

There's a deep sadness to so many of these "old time" songs, spurred on by loneliness, heartbreak or a sense of homelessness. A.P. Carter's "By the Touch of Her Hand", sung with shattering directness by Linda Williams, describes "days so dark" amid "lonesome pines", as lovers are separated. "I'll Twine Mid the Ringlets" tells a similar tale, with Williams again at the lead, singing "my visions of love have all faded away." Late in the album, a "Home, Sweet Home Medley" of what Robin Williams describes as "old sentimental ballads", including Jimmie Rodgers' "Daddy and Home", Left Frizzell's "Mom and Dad's Waltz" and the traditional "Precious Memories", look nostalgically back to childhood through a lens of present-time sadness.

That looking backwards to "home" is often paired with a looking forward to a future sense of home. The hope that balances the sadness of these songs is so often a spiritual hope, a belief that the pain of life gives way to the joy of the afterlife. 1995's Good News was a gospel album, and Robin & Linda Williams have often sung, and written gospel songs. Several of their original songs here reflect this spiritual longing for a place of comfort; what one song title refers to as "The Other Side of Town". Their version of the sometimes schmaltzy 1939 song "We'll Meet Again", recorded for a show featuring songs of World War II, takes on a spiritual quality, both due to Linda Williams' singing of it and the song coming after their acapella rendition of the gospel song "Feed My Sheep". Their "So Long, See You Tomorrow" takes the same "see you soon" sentiment and makes it explicitly about the afterlife, with the protagonist confessing life's regrets and dreaming of a "morning free from sorrow".

This combination of current-day struggle with the hopeful promise of a peaceful future is integral to these old-time songs, and to the undercurrent of melancholy that runs through A Prairie Home Companion, even at its hokiest. There's always that sense that you laugh, and sing, to express the tears you dare not cry. Robin and Linda Williams are not free from hokum themselves; the CD ends with their radio-skit personas Marvin and Mavis Smiley doing a jokey bluegrass run-through of music from classic, and, not coincidentally, tragic, operas. Yet the straightforward, reverent way that they tackle traditional folk music expresses an appreciation for this style of music and the circumstances driving it. Radio Songs displays an understanding of hard times equal to an understanding of the way people use music to get by and rise above, together.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.