Like his friend, compatriot and occasional collaborator Tami Neilson, New Zealand troubadour Williams is a shape-shifting musical chameleon. On previous recordings, he has traversed blues, bluegrass, country, folk and rock terrain with authority, but this eclecticism may have been a career hindrance.
This release, however, is far more focused, comprised of songs written in the aftermath of a relationship's end. Within this theme, Williams explores the full gamut of emotions, and that rich and resonant voice is the perfect vehicle. There is the passionate pleading of "Can I Call You," with lines like "let her find her way to you, I can't be sure if she ever will." Beginning with sparse piano and a guitar strum, it builds with strings that will tug at your heartstrings without becoming melodramatic. "Party Boy" is a jealousy-fuelled tune with a touch of malevolence, yet it has a frisky '50s vibe to it.
Another highlight is "Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore," a lush duet with Aldous Harding. The fact that this was recorded after Williams' breakup with the singer adds further intensity to the powerful ballad.
There is definitely something retro about Williams' vocals and the production on the album, with obvious reference points being such emotionally expressive balladeers as Roy Orbison (an acknowledged influence), Scott Walker and Chris Isaak. On "I Didn't Make A Plan," he goes to a deeper register, convincingly, but it is his pure and soaring delivery that generally holds court (Jeff Buckley is another point of comparison).
The singer elicited production help from Noah Georgeson ( Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart), a smart decision, given the subtle yet always effective sonic touches here. The result is a stunning work that will draw you back to repeated, if oft intense, listening. (Dead Oceans)