10 songs / 39:22 minutes
Based in Adelaide, South Australia, Cal Williams Jr is a guitarist/singer-songwriter with a focus on blues and folk music, whose reputation has been steadily growing in recent years, both at home in Australia and in the United Kingdom. In addition to performing and recording, Williams is the author of numerous instructional books for guitar and ukulele, including books on alternate tunings and a volume devoted to songwriting. He’s also a performing member of The Hushes, a trio that weaves bluegrass, folk, and blues elements into an intriguing acoustical brew.
Winter Dove is his sixth solo effort, and it follows a format similar to that of his previous releases, featuring an assortment of acoustic blues and folk songs, with Williams on acoustic guitar and vocals, along with his long-time musical partner Kory Horwood on upright bass and vocals, Kelly Menhennet on backing vocals, Heather Stratfold on Cello, Chris Finnen on guitar and percussion, and Anthony Stewart on guitar and mandolin.
Recorded at a beach house in Aldinga during a summer heatwave, Winter Dove provides an introspective reflection on acoustic blues and folk music. Williams has once again teamed up with long term musical partner and highly-acclaimed upright bassist Kory Horwood to create an album that focuses primarily on older folk blues tunes, weaving heartfelt stories highlighted by William’s understated fingerpicking and plaintive vocals.
For this collection, Williams combines a variant of traditional British folk fingerpicking with his unique approach to the acoustic slide guitar to create a sound that is both intricate and rhythmic, but never overwhelming. His soft tenor is evocative of Mississippi John Hurt, while his playing combines elements of Delta blues and traditional folk and bluegrass music. Williams’ playing throughout this CD is refined yet somewhat understated, especially compared to some of his live performances that can be easily found on YouTube.
The opening track, “Can’t Get Well No More”, has a familiar, loping quality to it. It feels very intimate, almost as if you’ve stumbled upon a private, back porch performance, and it clearly showcases Williams’ acoustic blues sensibility.
The second cut, the melancholy “World of Stone,” features some gorgeous fingerpicking and a haunting cello that leaves its way throughout the performance.
The third track, “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?”, showcases the softer side of Williams’ fingerpicked approach to slide guitar, and features some lovely background harmony vocals.
“Daniel in the Lion’s Den” features an interesting, bowed double bass intro, and has a bluegrass feel to it. Other songs include the title track, “Winter Dove”, a delicate combination of British folk music and American gospel, with some wonderful background harmony vocals and a subtle string arrangement. And, the beautifully fingerpicked spiritual, “Can’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore” is a real delight.
This collection requires the listener’s attention, and while the instrumentation is beautifully recorded – the interplay between musicians is seamless – the subtlety of Williams’ voice sometimes gets lost. Perhaps adding some compression to his vocals might have helped balance its volume in certain tracks.
All in all, this is a quiet album, and focuses on the softer side of Williams’ playing and vocals. Headphones will allow the listener to fully appreciate all of the subtle details that can be found in these songs, and whet your appetite for more. And a quick visit to YouTube will provide the listener with a glimpse of a much more lively performer than might be expected, and is well worth the trip!
Regardless, if you’re a fan of traditional acoustic blues and folk music, do check out Winter Dove. It’s an enjoyable collection of traditional tunes performed with introspection, subtlety and sincerity by an intriguing performer. This is a relatively short album, with all 10 songs clocking-in at just over 39 minutes, but there are no wasted moments on Winter Dove.