Pondering some kind of central theme that links the 10 songs on I’ll Meet You Here, her first album release in six years, Dar Williams finally settled on “acceptance.” Not in a passive sense, but an acknowledgement that being true to yourself is the only true way, Williams exudes optimism and resilience both lyrically and sonically.
Unsurprisingly, the past 18 months has contributed to this feeling of take-me-as-you-find-me. Williams had much of the album ready to record when the pandemic struck, and then spent the rest of 2020 in what she calls a state of “non-control.” I’ll Meet You Here is her release from trying to control anything.
Just “singer-songwriter” sells Williams very short. Her writing and teaching spans songwriting retreats, books, yoga, and urban planning. Glimpses of her other interests feature in her songs as she confronts issues of the deepest gravity with a lightness that has always made her records, from way back to her 1993 debut, so accessible.
Opener “Time, Be My Friend” is like meeting an old soulmate after far too long apart. Williams and Gail Ann Dorsey’s duet radiates a calm acceptance of what is happening now in a song for a post-pandemic era. You can’t turn back the clock to “normal” times or control the future, so make time your friend. Dorsey’s bass and Larry Campbell’s guitars weave a psychedelic yet meditative mood. “Magical Thinking” continues the idea of change from “Living in daydreams / is not a way to live” to “If I do a few things better now / Better than I’ve done before.” Without sounding preachy, Williams offers a therapeutic encouragement, her gentle acoustic guitar with distant keys providing further support.
In her 2017 book suggestions on how more American small towns can thrive. “Little Town” shows how a mayor of one such place eventually changes his view of newcomers from outright hostility to welcoming immigration and diversity. Hope prevails but Williams wrings out the mayor’s every last drop of regret for holding back the fortunes of the entire town, set in the song to melancholy cello and piano.
“Today and Every Day” is the album’s optimistic peak. The breezy country pop vibe of the line “Hey there polar bear” could come across as almost trite, but Antje Duvekot’s video reinforces Williams’ conviction that together we can all do something about climate change because “everyone’s a power station.”
“You’re Aging Well,” which revisits a song from her debut album, The Honesty Room, is the perfect close to this album. Written in her 20s and recorded with Joan Baez, who launched her career, Williams is now the 50-something narrator. To a gentle piano line her delicate soprano underscores the wisdom gained in the intervening years.
I’ll Meet You Here offers a compelling insight into how Dar Williams has accepted change and lives with contentment. Her unique blend of encouragement and resilience is as much a gift to the listener as it must be for those who have been on her retreats.