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Out There Live

Dar Williams Is Out There

By Vanessa Selbst

Recorded during her sold-out tour for Green World, Out There Live is Dar Williams’ first live album, which is well earned after four studio albums. On the Green World tour she played with Steuart Smith (guitarist for Shawn Colvin), Gail Ann Dorsey (bassist for David Bowie), Jeff Kazee (keyboardist for Southside Johnny) and Steve Holley (drummer for Paul McCartney and Joe Cocker). Out There Live, which takes its name from William’s song, “Are You Out There?” includes songs from all four albums -- The Honesty Room, Mortal City, End of the Summer, and Green World. Out There Live is a result of her growing success; her first four albums sold over 500,000 copies.

The album begins with “As Cool as I Am,” a hit single from Williams’ second album, Mortal City. A slightly faster paced version than the one on the album, the old favorite is about William’s adventures at a lesbian bar where she “didn’t like the love, [she] liked the climate.” “As Cool as I Am” makes for a lively opening. “If I Wrote You” and “Spring Street” provide diversity from among Williams’ albums, coming from End of the Summer and Green World respectively. After “Spring Street,” Williams shares an anecdote about the inspiration from the next song, “I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono.” With wit and reminiscence, Williams tells of her Wesleyan days, when there was “peer pressure to be avant-garde.” Finally there is an album that allows the listener to experience the personality that makes Williams’ concerts so unique.

“Better Things” features accompaniments by Steuart Smith and Gail Ann Dorsey. Williams takes full advantage of her band, and the harmony is unmatched in everything solo that she’s done to date. In other songs, the instrumental accompaniment provided by the band adds a new dimension to the music. In certain songs, however, such as “Iowa,” it is apparent that Williams is more comfortable singing with only her guitar; and at times her voice competes with the instruments. Thus, the song is not as smooth as the studio versions.

The whole album has a calmer overtone than Williams’ studio albums. However, in “When I Was a Boy,” the slower beat lulls the listener, making it difficult to appreciate the wit within the lyrics. Her anecdotes, including one about her babysitter’s performance as the inspiration for the song “The Babysitter’s Here,” are witty and heartfelt, making the album even more unique and personal than her studio albums.

Overall, the live album just adds something new to Williams’ repertoire. Out There Live provides a wonderful balance between the brilliance of Williams’ lyrics, beauty of her voice, and insight into her life’s experiences. Dar Williams will be playing at HMV in Cambridge on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.