Songs of anguish and despair, from Sam Williams, the grandson of the great Hank Williams
Release Date: 20th August 2021
Label: Snakefarm Records
Family legacies don’t come any more impressive than this one… Sam Williams is the grandson of the great Hank Williams and the son of outlaw legend Hank Williams Jnr and now, aged 22, he’s taken the musical road for himself with this excellent debut album.
And it’s clear from the outset, that road has been taken not to satisfy any impulse to extend the family legacy and tradition, but because Sam has a lot to say for himself, and the chops and the friends to say it with impact and with quite a few memorable tunes thrown in. He’s certainly managed to rope in the services of some impressive guests… Dolly Parton, no less, duets on the bittersweet Happy All The Time, Aussie/American superstar Keith Urban steps up to contribute to the gritty pop-rocker (and current single) Kids, and there are writing collaborations with the likes of Dan Auerbach, Sean McConnell, Justin Parker and Jaren Johnston.
The album is a collection of sad, introspective songs that cover subjects like family bereavement, alcoholism, marital strife, small-town traumas and lots of crumbling relationships – but don’t get the idea that the album is any kind of downer – there’s a lot of musical variety to enjoy, including acoustic folk, sublime country, big ballads and a healthy serving of chugging, dirty rock.
Sam’s plaintive, vulnerable vocals are a feature throughout the album; indeed, his presence has been described as that of …an old soul – a gentle, sensitive seeker, searching for his place in a cold, hard world, and that’s a pretty accurate description, made all the more poignant when we’re told that Sam’s beloved sister, Kate, was killed in a car crash shortly after the album was completed.
That vocal fragility is evident right from the outset in the album’s title track and opening number. The production is big, dripping with strings and echo-y drums, that provide a startling contrast to Sam’s world-weary vocal. Happy All The Time – that duet with Dolly Parton – is a lovely song with lyrics that muse on how life would be if happiness could be bought, like any other commodity. The harmonies are good as you would expect from such a vocal pairing and the pedal steel touches are delicious.
The pedal steel sticks around for the slow-building Can’t Fool Your Own Blood, before things are stripped right back to the basics of a double-tracked vocal and a simple acoustic guitar for the short, but highly effective, Bulleit Blues. Chiming guitars, crisp percussion and a rolling bassline are the order of the day for the rockier 10-4. A song that, in view of the serious stuff that came before, brings a welcome dose of light relief to the proceedings.
Wild Girl is excellent; a song that paints a vivid picture of the tensions and relationships in a typical small-town, takes the rock quotient a couple of degrees higher – one of the real highlights of the album, and the bouncy Kids keeps the bus wheels rolling.
Shuteye is intense and delves into the experience of insomnia that follows the trauma of a shattered relationship. I particularly admire how Sam managed to come up with a tune that matches the mood of the song and the intensity of the lyrics so perfectly, and the song is another album highlight. Perhaps the most interesting and disturbing song on the album is the slow, atmospheric, Hopeless Romanticism. With a self-critical and uncomfortably creepy lyric, Sam considers his own susceptibility to falling in love, culminating in the refrain: “Hopeless romanticism is f**king narcissism”– a disturbing but interesting observation.
Things are brought to a close with a big ballad. The World: Alone is another sad break-up song. This time the narrator finds himself in famous places around the world, but the twist in the tale is that he’s alone and not with the partner he planned and hoped to make the trip with. It’s a typically sad and complicated end to an album packed with sad, complicated stories.
Glasshouse Children is an accomplished debut. The sad stories related in the songs’ lyrics are sweetened by lots of excellent musicianship, and the overall impression gained from hearing the songs alternates between enjoyment, exhilaration and introspection. Expect to hear a lot more about Sam Williams.
Watch the live video to Glasshouse Children from Sam Williams – the album’s title track – below.