Joy Williams says in press materials that she finds the most enjoyment in music “that feels like a conversation.” On her new album, Front Porch, she’s the ideal conversationalist, creating the warm and inviting atmosphere she aimed for at the album’s inception.
Williams’ work has evolved over her nearly 20-year career, which saw her start out as a contemporary Christian artist before rising to crossover fame as part of the acclaimed Americana duo The Civil Wars, which disbanded in 2014, with John Paul White. The common thread carried through this evolution is the heart she brings to her work. Williams continues to share her heart on her second solo Americana album, offering sentimental words of love and wisdom across 12 soul-searching songs that demonstrate her gift as both a wordsmith and artist.
Throughout the glowing project, Williams has a voice like that of a songbird, whether it’s floating like a peaceful wind on “When Does a Heart Move On?”, where she poetically chronicles the struggle of two people trying to hold on to a fractured relationship, or gently touches one’s heart with “The Trouble With Wanting,” capturing the vulnerable feeling of constantly longing for someone. In the latter, she does so in a manner where the calming acoustic and steel guitars pair beautifully with her tranquil voice in a way that makes one feel melancholy, yet comforted.
She has a gift for pulling the listener in to lyrics as pure as her shining melodies, thanks in part to the production efforts of The Milk Carton Kids’ Kenneth Pattengale. She conveys the depths of love in thought-provoking ways, whether explaining how the person you love is the definition of home on the potent ballad “No Place Like You” or on “When Creation Was Young,” a striking bluegrass number that proves the intensity of her emotion as she sings, “before you took a breath / before sin ever confessed / before hate was a word and life found death / I was loving you.” She simultaneously shares honest and inspiring life lessons that range from unwavering strength in such lyrics as “there’s a shadow hanging heavy / there’s a cold chill in my bones / but I will not shut my eyes / I will sing” on the album’s striking opening “Canary,” yet just as eloquently presents a notion of gratitude with “All I Need,” singing, “I may not have everything I want / but I have all I need.”
Part of the magic of Front Porch is the way in which Williams allows each word to have its moment, letting its meaning simmer inside the listener’s soul. This particularly resonates on “Preacher’s Daughter,” a touching tribute to her late father, Roger Williams. A moving monologue put to music, Williams selects poignant details of her father’s impact on her life, whether it be how he taught her to tie her shoelaces or seeing his smile in her son Miles. “Like his will I would not bend / I guess I got my nerve from him / but we were made of soft / we were never made of stone,” she reflects with her mystical voice as a fiddle cries softly in the background.
But the album’s true meaning lies in the title track, as Williams accomplishes her goal of inviting us somewhere familiar and comforting, putting it so graciously as, “whatever you’ve done, it doesn’t matter / ’cause darling we’re all a little splintered and battered / but the light is on, what you waiting for / come on back to the front porch.” Her words build a foundation for a heartfelt project that’s steeped in purity, poignancy, and organic emotion, just like her expansive repertoire of music that’s been moving fans for years.