When underground talent is discovered, it can spur the kind of excitement and joy usually only found on a Christmas morning. I first experienced NY native Christopher Williams in a live setting opening up for Jars Of Clay. As sort of a one-man-band, he wielded his instruments with the confidence and finesse of an iron chef, and it didn't take long to captivate his audience. Williams leaves the kind of impression on his first-time listeners that only makes them wonder why in the world they hadn't heard him before.
Following several successful independent albums, Williams offers his strongest recording to date, Sweet Redemption. Williams soulful music is catchy while being pensive and moving at the same time. The gospel flavorings of the opener "Anything But Fail" launch the album on an upbeat note, giving the feel of an old spiritual, as the chorus delights in the fact that "God can do anything but fail." The acoustic folk sound of "Found" follows, complete with a southern groove and strong vocals from Williams. Sweet Redemption has fantastic production quality which allows the songs the fullness they deserve. While Christopher's live shows are often just him and his guitar or with a djembe and harmonica, Sweet Redemption offers a much fuller presentation. The metaphorical "Circus," inspired by the vulnerability felt by the loss of his father, has moments where it feels the minimalistic nature of his live performance, but for the recording, Chris is able to add little touches like the tasteful addition of percussion or the accent of a subtle female background vocal, provided by Katie Herzig.
The mood picks up again for the rich, gospel anthems of "Wisdom Well" and a cover of Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody," which is especially fitting given that Williams' captures a Dylan vibe many times throughout the album. But in this specific instance where he directly covers the famous singer, Williams captures one of the best renditions of the song to date. Chris continues to dabble with the southern gospel style on "Deep Blue Sea," and more subtly on the mournful "Holy Ground," even enlisting the help of gospel vet Ashley Cleveland, Jars of Clay's Steve Mason, and country singer Kenny Meeks. It's no surprise Sweet Redemption has such a winning sound when Williams recruits such talent - a roster that is rounded out by players/vocalists like Andy Hubbard, Aaron Sands, Ben Shive, Andy Osenga, and Matthew Perryman Jones.
The soul-bearing "Given Up On Me" is another highlight, an acoustic ballad born out of a night when the singer felt convicted of selfishness, leading him to pen this thankful prayer to God. With the aid of additional players, including piano accompaniment and BGV's, Williams gives the song additional layers, but the more intimate and organic feel that the live version of just Chris pouring his heart out in lament is missed a bit in the final product. "Just Yet" is another fragile acoustic gem, while "When It Falls Apart" is a fun, upbeat little acoustic tune with a fresh look on the Biblical idea of losing your life to find - complete with whistling. The album then concludes with the short-but-sweet acoustic title track to wrap the album with a hopeful reflection on Christ's Grace.
Christopher Williams puts together a solid album from start to finish with Sweet Redemption. There isn't a soft spot on the record, although fans of his live material may miss some of the intimacy found in just the man, his guitar, and his heart spread across his t-shirt sleeve. With indie records like this, it only makes you wonder with complete and udder bewilderment why labels aren't releasing more honest and real music like that from Williams, and choose to flood the industry with much of the same, tiresome records. Christopher Williams' Sweet Redemption is oh so very, very sweet.- Review date: 3/5/08, written by John DiBiase
Record Label: None
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