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Various Artists - Women Sing Williams: Songs of David E. Williams in the Female Voice

Last time I reviewed David E. Williams at the time of Hospice Chorale I referred to him as a "singer-songwriter stretching the American songbook to its very extremes". Little did I know then that this album featuring female singers interpreting his works was going to be appear. Ah, maybe I'm not so bad as a reviewer. Over 30 years and some 6 or 7 albums David E. Williams has established himself as something of a unique performer penning darkly humorous, warped and emotive lyrics over sophisticated piano and keyboard arrangements that move to pop, electro and polka rhythms. Don't be fooled by the characters that populate his songs - including murderers, sex tourists, suicide seekers, juvenile delinquents to oncologists, fast food and call centre workers and even a horse - David E. Williams has written some of the most confessional and personal songs I've heard. Sad songs do, as someone else said, say so much. Women Sing Williams: Songs of David E. Williams in the Female Voice includes 13 new vocal versions of Williams's work including contributions from "dark music royalty" such as Tara Vanflower (Lycia), Gitane Demone (Christian Death) and Scout Paré-Phillips and many others including some unknown (to me) females singers.

A number of contributing artists come from the neo-folk scene which isn't surprising really as Williams shares an affinity and friendship having collaborated with many names associated with the genre. You only need to look at the list of contributing artists to The Appeal of Discarded Orthodoxy: A Tribute to David E. Williams, the 2007 double CD set featuring reworking of his songs by the likes of Blood Axis, Changes, Rome, Albireon, Spiritual Front and many others from the underground to see his impact on that scene. It is the Ukranian folk outfit Casa Ukrania who kick off the proceedings here with 'Done Gone Gomorrah!' from David E. Williams's second album, I Have Forgotten How To Love You. With heavily accented vocals draped over spartan electro and rolling drums filled with sorrowful chords they add a more accessible electro pop edge to the track. 'Teddy Bear Laser Speculum' is one of Williams's more atmospheric productions and perhaps not an obvious choice. However springing from samples, Awen strip it back creating an atmospheric setting with loose bass tones, straining e-bow and percussive flourishes, as a backdrop to Katrin X's sorrowful yearning tones on this sad tale of familial abuse.

Apibus, who feature Hospice Chorale collaborator Albo Südekum, set 'Sandra Lindsey' one of Williams key early songs to something of a neo-folk setting. This one was performed live with Rozz Williams and has been covered by both Thomas Nöla Et Son Orchestre and John Murphy's Shining Vril. At the hands of Apibus it takes on the form of a neo-folk murder ballad, as Südekum's voice rises singing of this tale of a juvenile firestarter and her deranged family over sweeps of acoustic guitar propelled by brooding bass lines and accompanied by a mournful violin score.

Jessica Way and Nathaniel Ritter also flit with folk and neo-folk in their respective groups, Barren Harvest and Kinit Her but here on 'Fishheads and Olives' Way's ethereal voice - backed by David E. Williams - features in a sparse and spacious arrangement of guitars, piano and percussion. Naevus and Rose McDowall featured this one, ruminating on a break-up, on a medley on The Appeal Of Discarded Orthodoxy but Wray and Ritter offer something different, something more atmospheric with layers of voices cascading over their stark arrangement.

Talking about atmospherics, Radio Eris look back to David E. Williams's debut album, with a slow-burning lo-fi take of 'Stench Number Seven' with Lora Bloom intoning this tale of sex in a half-sung, half-spoken tones couched in vocal harmonies and backed by ringing psychedelic guitars and atmospheric electronics. Lora Bloom sung previously on Williams's album Every Missing Duck is a Duck Missed, more on which later. It's a wonderful interpretation of Williams's original "sad love story" which was originally steeped in keyboards and synthetic strings. From lo-fi atmospheric psychedelics to sophistication, the Italian electro duo, Porta Vittoria, transform the dark layers of 'The Curious Pediatrician' into a sultry and sleazy blend of electro beats and pulsing synths.

Like David E. Williams, Scout Paré-Phillips the US based multi-instrumentalist exists in a world of her own making. Here her soprano voice soars and quivers over countryfied tremeloed guitar and some sprightly keys supplied by David E. Williams couching Hospice Chorale's 'Someday I Will Live My Life as a Horse' within the exquisite offbeat folk world she inhabits. Scout Paré-Phillips possesses a unique voice and Women Sing Williams really comes into its own here and on a number of tracks where the voice comes to the fore and takes precedence over Williams's original musical arrangements. It's apparent on 'Haiku, Interrupted' and 'Relentless and Unrelenting' neither of which I'd consider amongst Williams's most obvious or best tracks.

Radio Eris's Lora Bloom also turns up on Bjarkan's take on 'Haiku, Interrupted' where her original vocal taken from the album Every Missing Duck is a Duck Missed features in the layers of vocals accompanying Bjarkan. Even amidst the chiming piano keys and sombre strings you can't miss Williams's capacity for capturing melody in this stark interpretation of his composition. It's suicide as sensuality on 'Relentless and Unrelenting' as Tara Vanflower, of American darkwave group Lycia, tackles one of Williams's more doomy dirge like offerings bathing it in cooing voices and sensuous vocals over layers of abstract sounds in this suicide tale referencing the last words of doomed actor George Sanders.

Way back in 1996 David E. Williams backed Rozz Williams of Christian Death in a controversial one-off performance, which subsequently turned up on CD as Accept The Gift of Sin, featuring tracks from Christian Death, David E. Williams and a number of cover versions that ranged from 10cc to the Cabaret soundtrack. This time it's the turn of Gitane Demone, another former member of Christian Death, who along with her quartet (including members of LA punk groups Adolescents and the Screamers) interpret the title track of Williams's second album. It's to my ears at least a surprising sophisticated ensemble piece with Demone's voice veering from gravelly spoken tones to a layered operatic howl over chiming piano chords and passages of pounding timpani drums and controlled feedback. Sung with such conviction it almost feels that the goth chanteuse has been singing this one forever.

His songwriting may be obtuse and subject matter difficult but David E. Williams is a songwriter in the classic mould and there's a run of two tracks on side 1 which features some of Williams's catchiest songs. 'A Patch of Fog in Purgatory' was one of my favourites from Trust No Scaffold Built Of This Bone imbued with a sense of sadness - even though I've no idea what it's about - showing the proficiency of Williams on the keyboards. He's on here too, but it's the clear pure voice of Andie Moor which adds a degree of warmth to the proceedings where sadness lurks behind the melodic sweetness. Rather good too is 'Summer Wasn't Made for You and Me' from A Piano and a Cocktail Murderess. Reduced to just as their name suggests a cabaret singer with a powerful voice and tinkering chintzy piano score, it's a refined version of that paean for those who eschew the sunshine and pine for those long, cold winter nights.

Women Sing Williams closes with 'Kill Yourself in Cape May' one of his most personal tracks taken from his "grieving survivor album" Every Missing Duck is a Duck Missed. Williams wrote this punchy number one about his partner, Jennifer Bates who died of leukemia in 2007. and I'd hazard a guess that the vocalist Jennifer Lydon may be a close friend. Chemo wards are sterile and unforgiving and even though the vocal is cast against the original arrangement it's clear that no matter who is singing you can't miss the power of a cancer singalong.

Most of the artists bring something new to the songs and while some don't eclipse Williams's original versions others bring an accessibility drawing out elements that were hidden by Williams's cracked drawl delivery. Women Sing Williams: Songs of David E. Williams in the Female Voice is a great idea and testament to the talent of David E. Williams as a songwriter. There's a lot to enjoy here but really don't miss the originals as we've been singing the praises of David E. Williams ever since we first encountered him around the time of his second album. Women Sing Williams: Songs of David E. Williams in the Female Voice is released by NATO and Tesco USA in an edition of 300 vinyl copies. For more information go to Tesco USA or David E. Williams bandcamp