review: Marla Cantrell
Hank Williams’ granddaughter, Holly Williams, only knows the country legend from the books and movies that tell about his life, the family stories that were passed down to her through her dad, Hank Williams, Jr., and the music he left behind. Her favorite is “I Saw The Light,” one of his gospel-infused hits. He died at twenty-nine in the backseat of his Cadillac on New Year’s Day, 1953, a tragedy that upended the country music world.
While Holly never met Hank, she did inherit his talent as a singer/songwriter. Her lyrics are insightful, sometimes mournful, and filled with the kind of imagery that’s hard to forget. On the first track, “Drinkin’,” the lines start out strong and only get better. “Why you drinkin’ like the night is young?” she asks. “The kids are in the bed and the day is long done. Why you screamin’ like I don’t have ears? Baby, I can hear you loud and clear.”
“Gone Away From Me,” is a heartbreak of a song about a woman who goes back to her Louisiana childhood home, visits the family cemetery and reminisces about all she’s lost. Holly’s style is country rock with a lot of Americana thrown in, and it works beautifully on these songs she spent so much time writing.
It took her nine months to record this album, which she did independently and with her own money. Her talent is prolific, and her connections so deep she was able to get Dierks Bently (on “Til It Runs Dry”), Jackson Browne (on “Gone Away From Me”), and Jakob Dylan (on “Without You) to make guest appearances on this record. Even Gwyneth Paltrow sings backup for “Waiting On June”.
Each of the songs is worth the price of the album. But the most heartfelt, the one that will remind you to tell the ones you love that you do, is “Waiting On June.” It’s a long song, seven minutes in length, and tells the story of Holly’s maternal grandparents’ undying love. The two grew up together in a world populated by cotton fields and hunting dogs. Her grandfather fell for June as a young boy and his devotion never wavered. The song travels through the rest of their lives, from their early love, her grandfather’s service in World War II, to their roles as parents and then grandparents.
Family plays a big part in Holly’s songwriting. And it’s about to get bigger. At the time of this writing, she was awaiting the birth of her first baby. Her life changed dramatically when she married musician Chris Coleman. She discovered she loved domestic life, something she embraces on her blog, “The Afternoon Off.” Holly says, “I have such passion for spending hours at the stove with pans simmering. It’s very similar to songwriting and producing — you choose your ingredients, you try and fail a few times and keep trying, you taste and test and taste and test, and the moment of finding the perfect mix for a recipe is equivalent to when I’m in the studio and the perfect mix has been accomplished there.”
The Highway is certainly an accomplishment. There was a long gap between her last album in 2009 and this one. Holly’s fans are hoping they won’t have to wait as long to hear more from her, this artist whose songs hit home every single time.