Forgotten Albums: Victoria Williams, Swing The Statue!

One night early this week I was grading exams, listening to a mix tape from 1995, one good enough to write up someday. One song came from Victoria Williams’s 1994 LP Loose, and she and her music have been on my mind all week. To the extent that Williams is actively recalled today, it’s probably as much due to health matters as her albums: after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the early 90s and no health insurance, a number of her friends in the biz got together and recorded Sweet Relief, a tribute disk to raise money to help her address her condition.

Before MS set her back, Williams had released two records: Happy Come Home on Geffen in 1988, and (after that bombed) Swing the Statue! on Rough Trade two years later. It’s lost on me now how I became aware of her work–forced to guess, I’d say I took a flyer on Swing the Statue! from a cutout bin late in my time at Illinois. Eventually I learned that Williams had been married to Peter Case in the mid-80s, appearing on his mighty fine first solo LP.

Williams has a keen eye and is a good storyteller. Her voice might be a bit of an acquired taste–at its most endearing, it’s childlike, full of wonder about the world. I could see how some folks might not exactly dig it, though. As for me, well…I’m writing about her, yes? Here are some of the highlights from Statue, a very solid record.

The album starts off with the whimsical “Why Look at the Moon.” The clip below is from an appearance on The Tonight Show (short interview with Carson at the end). I think we get a good sense of what she’s about from it.

Did I know that Swing the Statue is a children’s game? It plays a role in “Tarbelly and Featherfoot.” Lou Reed performed this on Sweet Relief.

Williams was definitely influenced by the Christianity of her youth, as “Holy Spirit” attests.

On the other hand, ”Summer of Drugs” gives us a tour of a completely different world. Soul Asylum led off Sweet Relief with their version.

Somehow I know “I Can’t Cry Hard Enough” better than any of the songs on this album. A version by The Williams Brothers (no relation–they’re nephews of easy listening legend Andy Williams) hit #42 in 1992; maybe that’s what I’m thinking of. You’ll notice below that David (who co-wrote it) and Andrew are both contributing here.

Victoria Williams made a cameo appearance at one of the most enjoyable concerts I ever attended, but I guess that’s a tale I’ll save for whenever I write up that mix tape.

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