Dar Williams 'voice may remain as even-tempered as ever, but Promised Land, her eighth release, finds her employing it in the service of more challenging themes. Her narratives are constantly changing tone: a plain-Jane research subject recollects her disturbing experience with the Milgram obedience experiments in the '60s on "Buzzer," while an ex-lover recalls getting dumped for a head case on "The Easy Way." Though it is frustrating at times when Williams 'pretty-pretty voice doesn't change as often as her perspectives, she does stretch her range with rougher or faster tracks like "The Book of Love" or the dramatic waltz "The Business of Things," which recalls Elliott Smith's doom-filled dances. There's also a chillingly minimal take on "Midnight Radio" from Hedwig & the Angry Inch, and a rock-pop coffee-shop interpretation of Fountains of Wayne's "Troubled Times."
Producer Brad Wood (recently re-noted for his work on Liz Phair's seminal Exile in Guyville) puts Williams 'voice out in front with extra sheen, even when a hundred things happen at once, like on the huge chorus of "Summerday." Williams also enlisted help from friends like Suzanne Vega, Marshall Crenshaw and Gary Louris to add texture. Don't look for the break-neck speed and experimental nature of previous Williams songs like "Are You Out There" or the cuddly intimacy of "The Beauty of the Rain"; just be ready for some unique new stories from this sweet and smart songsmith.