A. A. Williams serves up a brilliant selection of wonderful covers recorded during lockdown in her own inimitable style.
Released: 19th March 2021
Label: Bella Union
Format: CD / LP / Digital
When A.A. Williams released Forever Blue (our review here) it’s fair to say we were blown away. The power, emotion and dynamism captured in an album recorded in the main at home. To hear that another set of songs constructed in the same way is an exciting prospect.
John Peel said in 2004, “I don’t like cover versions when they’re just a faithful replica of the original – you get an awful lot of that and it seems to me to be utterly pointless. But when somebody comes along and does something original that you wouldn’t have expected, then that is particularly welcome.” It is with this in mind that you could categorize Songs In Isolation as something particularly welcome.
Each of the nine songs here is instantly recognisable, but they’re given the A.A. Williams treatment. There is a heartbreaking delicacy in how Lovesong opens the album. The upbeat nature of the original song is ripped apart and replaced by pensive piano. The same could be said of Where Is My Mind. Piano and vocals weave like tendrils of smoke floating away. Whilst the percussion has gone, the emotion hasn’t. The fragility of the music gives the songs brand new life.
Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind and Radiohead’s Creep follow the same process in their stark delivery. Both are striking and give fresh credence to the lyrics as they are laid bare in the songs.
Perhaps the two songs that are the epitome of John Peel’s quote regarding covers are Williams’ take on Deftones’ Be Quiet And Drive and Smashing Pumpkins’ Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans. The former has all it’s nu-metal stylings trimmed, and as previously mentioned, offers fresh focus on the lyrics of the song. Williams chooses to accompany her vocal with a resonant solitary guitar and subtle bass.
Porcelina is one of Smashing Pumpkins masterpieces; serving as the mid-album crescendo on Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness. Here, it’s pulled back from it’s near 10 minute original duration and flourishes as a piano ballad; one which has even had the thumbs up from Billy Corgan himself.
You could also count Nine Inch Nails Everyday Is Exactly The Same in the same bracket as Be Quiet And Drive and Porcelina. It’s another re-take on a brilliant song that is laid completely bare; it’s also an apt choice to include such a song on an album entitled Songs From Isolation.
Into My Arms is potentially one of the most beautiful songs ever written. The shuddering guitar and the ethereal and haunting atmospheric sound that Williams adds to the song take the song to another world. Whilst Nick Cave’s version is gut wrenchingly good, Williams take is utterly unique, especially when it would have been easy to replicate the song.
Songs From Isolation is a beautiful collection of songs. This record is clearly a labour of love showing one persons solace in music when times have been extremely hard. Isolation rings out on a few levels; it’s the period of time we have been living with but all of these songs isolate the grandeur of each composition in how Williams delivers them. Whilst there is a tough anguish in Williams voice, there is also immense comfort. Songs In Isolation is triumphantly, and beautifully bleak.
A.A. Williams has a short tour slated for May. You can access the tour dates here.