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Take three of the best singer/songwriters in America. Add twelve
great songs written by some of the most celebrated (and some of
the most obscure) songwriters in the US and Canada. Record a record
with a bunch of friends (Williams' touring band, producer Darleen
Wilson and Larry Campbell- guitar wizard for Bob Dylan and k.d.
lang). Book a whirlwind tour of the US with any number of those
same writers opening the shows. And then stand back.Cry Cry Cry
is Dar Williams, Richard Shindell, and Lucy Kaplansky. "I had
a vision of an album that would cover the back roads of the United
States and Canada," says Williams, "with material by artists who
had been influenced by everything from traditional folk music
to post-modern literature. Richard said, `why don't we just do
an album of songs we love?' Lucy, the therapist," says Williams,
"didn't take sides; she let the Process happen."
Dar Williams, Richard Shindell, and Lucy Kaplansky are three of the brightest lights on the American songscape today. Williams has developed a fervent audience- according to Pollstar one of the Top 50 grossing touring artists of the first part of 1998. Williams toured with Lilith Fair and "Real Life Songs" (Williams, Bruce Cockburn, and Richard Thompson), appeared on the Conan O'Brien show, and recently scored a song on the soundtrack for the Sherman Alexi film,Smoke Signals. Shindell won the 1998 American Federation of Independent Music (formerly NAIRD) "Contemporary Folk Album of the Year" for his stunning Reunion Hill (beating out such heavy hitters as John Prine, Guy Clark, Bruce Cockburn, and Greg Brown). Kaplansky's two Red House releases The Tide (produced by Shawn Colvin) and Flesh and Bone have gained her notice far beyond her magnificent harmony vocals on albums by Colvin, Nanci Griffith, and Suzanne Vega. "Easily one of the best albums of the year," wrote the Associated Press of Flesh and Bone.
The result is a wonderfully complex, rootsy album. REM's elliptical
"Fall on Me" stands next to Canadian James Keelaghan's chilling
narrative about the deaths of fourteen fire-jumpers, "Cold Missouri
Waters." Ron Sexsmith's delicate "Speaking with the Angel" is
juxtaposed with "Shades of Grey," Robert Earl Keen's scruffy tale
of small-time ne'er do wells mistaken for the Oklahoma City bombers.
Williams, Shindell, and Kaplansky have chosen material based on quality rather than on notoriety. Greg Brown's pean to despondency, "Oh Lord I Have Made You a Place in My Heart" ("so take a good look and then leave") receives an austere, Carter-family reading, while Julie Miller's "By Way of Sorrow" comes across as joyful, Celtic-influenced catharsis. But while those artists are well respected in the world of contemporary singer/songwriters, Cry Cry Cry has also tapped artists considerably more obscure. Leslie Smith, a homemaker and part-time performer from Pittsburgh (who records for Waterbug, the tiny Chicago-based songwriter label on which Williams originally released her debut album), is represented by the bracing a capella "Northern Cross," a song as lonely as a windswept Applachian mountainside.