pop folk is in their blood

Harmony Hotel (Warner Bros.)
The Williams Brothers

By Allen Howie

Take the close harmonies shared between siblings, add in ten songs as complex and compelling as any in recent memory, then wrap them in music that's tasteful, inventive and engaging. The result is The Williams Brothers' Harmony Hotel, an album sure to delight fans of the Indigo Girls, the Rembrandts and even the Everly Brothers.

From its opening number, the brittle, bittersweet "Friction," the record draws the listener inexorably into its center, where David Williams' pretty, plaintive lead vocals are perfectly framed by brother Andrew's graceful guitar and uncanny harmonies.

"Don't Look Now" mourns the passing of a friend stricken by AIDS. Neither preachy nor militant, it is instead a moving tribute to a friendship ended by quiet tragedy.

Harmony Hotel is haunted by such doomed souls: the boy who reluctantly becomes the "Man of the House," the snow-covered romantics of "Silver," the musical ghosts who rattle around the rooms of "Harmony Hotel." Small touches bring them each to life: Martin Tillmann's aching cello, Scott Babcock's restrained drumming, and the brothers' dry humor and unerring tunefulness.

"Where Would I Be" dances lightly over a mild Cajun beat, while "Love Is the Language" finds the brothers looking for a love with which to arm themselves against a cold and hostile world, the song's sinister undercurrent hinting at a danger left unspoken in the lyrics.

The gentle "Broken Things" dusts off a worn-out cliche (a broken heart) and finds the truth beneath the layers of overuse and banality. "Long Ago Last Night" lingers on the events of an evening before, as if turning them over time and again could make things play out differently.

The album's closing track is the well-named "Wonderful Blues," a spry wallow in self-deception that echoes early Lennon/McCartney efforts. It's merely the last in a long list of reasons to check into Harmony Hotel.