Editor’s note: This event has been canceled. A notice in the Ark’s weekly email reads, “[Williams’] doctor has prescribed vocal rest and she has had to cancel a number of shows. We wish her a speedy recovery and hope to have her on The Ark stage soon.”
Holly Audrey Williams, granddaughter of Hank Williams Sr. and daughter of Hank Jr., has traded a bit on her famous name. She runs a posh clothing boutique in Nashville called H. Audrey (Audrey was the wife of Hank Sr., who inspired some of her husband’s most tortured songs and apparently matched him step for step in substance abuse), and, like her father, has written some songs that make you search for clues as to how closely they reflect the various family curses.
She’s also issued several albums that try out different voices, the latest being The Highway. The New York Times described it as sounding more like John Prine or Bruce Springsteen than the smiley-face music of contemporary Nashville–which shows, I guess, that someone was fed some publicity lines. In fact, Williams’ music has neither the sardonic verbal virtuosity of Prine nor the poetic populism of Springsteen. It’s about what you would expect from someone trying to carve out a place as a songwriter on the fringe of the Nashville music business. There are a few road and railroad songs–one of which name-checks Jack Kerouac–some breakup songs, and some love songs, all pared down to very common images. “Ol’ Hank made it here, and we’re all sure that you will,” sang Hank Jr. once upon a time, and his daughter’s music also shows the pressure of high expectations.
But, as Ralph Stanley once said, musical talent “tends to run in families like a good line of dogs, and there ain’t nothing you can do to change that.” The gift of simplicity–the family talent for distilling a situation down to a few clear drops of pain–pops up all over Holly Williams’ music, and when it does it will rivet you to your seat. Her best songs look without flinching at the family demon, alcohol:
Why are you drinkin’ like the night is young?
The kids are in bed and the day is long done.
So why are you drinkin’ like the night is young?
Why are you screamin’ like I don’t have ears?
Yeah, why are you screamin’ like I don’t have ears?
Baby, I can hear you loud and clear.
So why are you screamin’ like I don’t have ears?
Holly Williams has been at it for awhile, but she’s coming to the Ark’s Take a Chance Tuesday series, meant to provide a forum for artists on the way up, on June 25 (see Nightspots). She’s still finding her voice, and in a situation like this the payoff could be enormous. The show is free, and the curiosity seekers alone should generate a big crowd.