Album Review of Rob Williams: Weathering the Storm, Vol. 1
Rob Williams is a storyteller. His voice is strong and full, as if it’s dispensing life’s truths. More than that, though, he’s a songwriter. And from beginning to end, Weathering the Storm, Vol. 1 offers up songs that are interesting and memorable. That alone would be reason to enjoy this album.
But this record also kicks off with one of those songs that’ll make you sit up and take notice, the sort of song that could introduce a talented, respected career musician to a huge audience with just a little lucky break. Indeed, “Nameless” is such a song. It’s an uptempo, alt-country, roots rocker with a monster hook and overflowing energy. It’s one of those songs you’ll turn up the radio to hear every single time, even if it’s not your preferred genre. It would be easy to stop talking about Weathering the Storm, Vol. 1 after mentioning the potential monster hit, but that wouldn’t be fair to the rest of this fine compilation of songs, which are well-crafted, enjoyable listens. But yowza, “Nameless” is such a great singalong, dance-along earworm, and it wields a wicked hook! Ironically, this song that’s so capable of making Rob Williams a household name sports the chorus “If you wonder what became of me, I’m nothing but happy. Don’t want to be famous; I’m content being nameless.”
The album ends with its other biggest potential breakout hit. The last song on the disc, “Good with the Changes,” would be a terrific second single. Sporting a nervous vocal tension and big, booming energy in the choruses, it’ll have you singing along “what do we do now?!” (and mumbling along to the words you don’t know) by the end of the first listen. Repeatedly, a touch of vocal melancholy pulls the listener in before the song, about aging gracefully and enthusiastically, breaks out in a rush of feel-good energy. The song structure and delivery are exceptional. On most albums, this would be the clear potential hit single. In this collection, it’s just the second-hookiest.
Find a way to work “Nameless” and “Good with the Changes” into a hit movie or TV series, and the world would remember Rob Williams’ name. Instead, that’s left to those of us lucky to discover his music. And once you’re familiar with his thoughtful, insightful, storytelling vocal style, you’re ready for the rest of this disc, which is a gem beginning-to-end, packed with meaty, well-written, intelligent songwriting.
In between its bookend hits, Rob’s songs get melancholy, defiant, dark, angsty, and a variety of other moods you’d expect to find in top-shelf songwriter material. They’re songs that slowly grow on you, too, so after a few listens you’re no longer sure the first or last song is your favorite anymore. Well-written songs will do that to you.
“Me and You” is a pleasant, hopeful, sway-to-it-with-a-smile-on-your-face tune about life’s pitfalls and the value of avoiding them.
“Falling Sky” is a much harsher song, using its rough edges to complement its lyrics about the dark, divisive worldview that can be subscribed to by those who are ensnared by the way the news is presented.
“A Hard Time” is a chug-along, earnest, energetic tune with jangly guitar buzz supporting the song’s cathartic vocal energy bursts.
“Only Heaven Knows” starts as a hillbilly-ish guitar picker that adds instrumental texture before chugging along like you’d expect from, well, a train song.
“Long Distance” is the first of two very memorable songs in this collection about relationships falling apart. In this one, Simon and Sarah clearly don’t have the same expectations of the future of their long distance relationship. Emotional and poignant, it’s a song about the pain an unequal power structure can cause in a relationship.
Two sons later, “Ghostwriter (Rosie and Justin),” is written from the point of view of “Justin” recalling a relationship that faded as the titular couple grew apart, perhaps not making the effort required to maintain their connection (“There were days when our paths didn’t cross and we stopped taking notice. There were nights that I slept on the couch just to let her sleep. There were weeks when we didn’t say three words to one another. Over time even three words became harder to speak”), something that is obvious in retrospect, as lyrically presented via Justin’s recollections. Rob’s emotional vocals and songwriting chops prove he’s an ideal artist for this type of song. You’ll feel tears well up and get a lump in your throat listening to both “Ghostwriter” and “Long Distance”; Rob’s delivery and the musical compositions behind the songs are spot-on.
In between the relationship songs, Rob squeezes “Moon’s Light,” a melancholy, reminiscent ode to times gone by, childhood memories, sung with the emotional pain that accompanies the singer’s realization of a life passing by too fast and of his place in the passage of generations of time. More haunting than memorable, it doesn’t exactly lighten the mood between “Long Distance” and “Ghostwriter.” In fact, after the sequence of “Long Distance,” “Moon’s Light,” and “Ghostwriter,” you’ll be emotionally wrought and really glad Rob closes the disc with the energetic and cheerful “Good With the Changes,” returning your psyche to equilibrium.
Weathering the Storm, Vol. 1 is an emotional disc that’s worth listening to from beginning to end. But if you want to start by sampling, after a quick listen to “Nameless” and “Good With the Changes,” you’ll be a Rob Williams fan before even hearing the rest of his songs.
Weathering the Storm
About trains, "Only Heaven Knows"
Singer-songwriter Rob Williams is known for his compelling, character-driven songs, and on his fourth album, Weathering the Storm, Vol. 1, Williams shares his most moving and intimate work. An album of beauty and balance, Williams blends free-wheeling classic country with a modern consciousness.
Williams explained his take on honesty with this example: “You know when a friend asks how you are, and you say ‘fine?’ when what you really wanna say is ‘I’ve been going through this terrible pain.'” His candid reaction led Williams to the equally honest lyrics, “And I think I will recover/Yes I think I will be fine/But I’m gonna need some help/And it’s gonna take some time.”
As David Allen Coe famously told Steve Goodman, country songs require specific topics (mama, trains, trucks, prison, getting drunk), and Williams told Elmore, “Every songwriter needs a train song.” He recalled doing a photo shoot in New York in the early morning hours, and a six-hour railway ride home in the Quiet Car (aka Hangover Car). “So, this is my train song. It’s not glamorous or gritty. No one gets robbed or killed. The train doesn’t derail at high speed going down a mountain. No one rides across the country in a boxcar. It’s just the unfolding of ordinary events (with a few embellishments) of an Amtrak ride from NYP to RVR.” (Click HERE for the full story.)
Williams honed his talent for memorable music in bands Contocook Line and Joe Buck, Jr. before releasing his solo album, A Place in the Sun, in 2013. In 2015, his second solo album, Southern FM, showcased his expansive, nuanced acoustic roots rock, and his third, An Hour Before Daylight, his knack for gripping narratives.