The Williams Brothers Memories to Burn

The Williams Brothers’ ‘Memories to Burn’ Finds Life After 28 years

The Williams Brothers twins’ tight vocal harmonies evoke the past’s classic country pop sibling acts. Memories to Burn is finally released after decades.

Memories to Burn
The Williams Brothers
Regional Records
21 October 2022

The Williams Brothers are twins whose tight vocal harmonies evoke the past’s classic country pop sibling acts. Siblings Andrew and David are also the nephews of singer Andy Williams and sometimes appeared on his television specials as part of his family band. Like Andy, the Williams Brothers sing in smooth, pleasant voices even when the songs are sad. Think of Andy’s “Can’t Get Used to Losing You”—the silky presentation makes being dumped sound like an inevitable fact of life for the narrator and his pain a deeper sorrow.)

The Williams Brothers released three albums on Warner Brothers from 1988-1994 and had a hit single from their second LP with “Can’t Cry Hard Enough”. They and their record company parted ways, but the group did make another record before the members took separate paths. The fourth record, Memories to Burn, has sat in the can for 28 years. Regional Records are now releasing it. This succinct (less than 30 minutes) album showcases the excellent vocal harmonies of the siblings and the talents of their backup band: Greg Leisz (Willie Nelson, Eagles) on steel guitar, Don Heffington (Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris) on drums, and Marvin Etzioni (Lone Justice, Counting Crows) on bass.

The ten songs on Memories to Burn were well chosen for their literate, lyrical qualities. Producer Marvin Etzioni has the Williams Brothers perform straight and sing with one voice atop the other. Etzioni contributed four tracks that seem to be purposely written in the mode of the old Everly Brothers‘ hits. One can hear echoes of songs including “Cathy’s Clown”, “Let It Be Me”, “(Til) I Kissed You”,  and “All I Have to Dream” in Etzioni’s “Memories to Burn”, “Cryin’ and Lyin'”, “You Can’t Hurt Me”, and “Unanswered Prayers” in the way he structures vocal harmonies and unfolds the narratives.

Andrew and David penned “She’s Got the Look in Her Eyes”, which follows a similar blueprint to the Etzioni tracks in its echoes of the Everlys. All of the aforementioned tracks are cleanly delivered. But what makes this record better than just being a tribute to the sound of Don and Phil are the covers. Memories to Burn includes two stellar Robbie Fulks compositions: the plaintive “Tears Only Run One Way” and the more darkly humorous “She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died)”. The Williams Brothers express sadness and tragedy by focusing on the farcical aspects of human comedy. People in pain are funny. Just look at that person slip on a banana peel, get a pie in the face, be hurt by the one they love or grow old and ugly. It’s all the same.

Fittingly, the brothers cover the Kinks‘ (led by another pair of brothers) “Death of a Clown” as if it were a traditional country ballad. Songs don’t get much sadder than this one as the singer croons “la la la” as everything falls apart in the circus of life. Andrew and David sing this tale of woe in a pleasant voice as if they are the alcoholic narrator who doesn’t care what is happening around him. This sentiment is echoed from another perspective in Andrew and David’s rendition of Iris DeMent’s “Let the Mystery Be”. DeMent accepts that she cannot understand the meaning of life (and death) but finds hope in love. The Williams Brothers find the existential mystery beyond their ken and leave it at that. Although both versions of the song have identical lyrics and melodies, there is something about the siblings’ vocals (and Etzioni’s production) that makes their performance much sadder than the original in an honest, bare-bones way.

The Williams Brothers end Memories to Burn with a less than a minute and a half take on Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Piney Wood Hills”, reminiscent of the Everly Brothers’ album of country covers, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. It’s the shortest song on the album of short tracks—the ten cuts average around two minutes in length. The brevity of this track and the others is its greatest limitation. It frequently sounds like the brothers are just starting when the song fades out and ends. If this were the Williams Brothers’ first album, one would note their great potential. But as this record has been stashed away for more than 25 years, one can say it’s about time and wonder what might have been if the act had stayed together longer.  

RATING 7 / 10