A friend told me what he admired about country singer Don Williams: “He doesn’t write everything he records and he doesn’t record everything he writes.” A fine songwriter himself, Williams knows creativity and originality aren’t mutually exclusive. That, his velvety bass-baritone voice, comportment favoring gentle contemplation over redneck bluster, and his distinctive melding of acoustic folk simplicity and countrypolitan finesse are hallmarks of a career that’s seen him amass seventeen number-one country hits (1974-1991). In the interim, his songs have been covered by Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend, and Lambchop.
His first album in eight years, And So It Goes, finds Williams’ style flourishing, with longtime producer Garth Fundis co-helming. The hallmarks endure: softly crackling guitars (with occasional bluesy overtones), steady Johnny Cash-like beat, sighing pedal steel, a small string section, and that voice, exuding its mix of sanguinity, patience, and hard-won wisdom. Even when songs (only two co-written by Williams) lean toward corniness — the devotional “She’s a Natural,” the honky-tonk lament “Imagine That” — Williams’ unassuming, kindhearted manner elevates them. “First Fool in Line” has subtle Southern R&B guitar motifs, and “I Just Come Here for the Music” features a sweetly winsome harmony from bluegrass doyenne Alison Krauss. “Infinity” is a charming number wherein the narrator connects the mysteries of the universe with romantic devotion. While no new ground is broken, neither has age (he’s 73) dimmed his abilities one bit. Welcome back, hoss. (Sugar Hill)