pop dexterity

19 (MOXIE/MGK)
Diane Williams Group

By Michael Campbell

On this collection of works from 1992 to 1995, Diane Williams demonstrates a thorough understanding of pop music architectures and distinctive vocal styles, plus a sure instinct for compelling hooks that manages to shine through the admittedly murky production of some songs. The arrangements suggest an amazing range of references from Prince to Herb Alpert.

A perfect example is the first selection, "Heaven Suite." It opens with a goofy sort of riff right out of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, and quickly evolves into a soaring declaration of determination. The bridge is a playful trade of fours between Williams' electric guitar and the synthetic horn section; her vocal approach evokes Chrissy Hynde. "Dave Should Just Go Away" begins with a slab of BTO rhythm guitars. "Pain Is All That Ever Was" sports the sort of Moog-ish synth riff that McCartney was brandishing in his post-Beatles period.

"Ms. Devane/Mr. Vain" exudes a dream-like quality, thanks to a lush arrangement reminiscent of Brian Wilson. Lest you think this is merely a collection of borrowed musical syntax, the historical comparisons will stop. But part of the charm of the album is the juxtaposition of these elements, and how well they work, which is just how pop music is supposed to evolve.

Williams does stamp these blends as her own. The yearning "Forget Me" doesn't sound like anybody else and is irresistible, from its sparse-yet-lush arrangement to its tasty muted trumpet solo (courtesy of Andy Mill). Aside from Mill and guests such as Tim Krekel and Sam Anderson, the Diane Williams Group is composed of Dianne Williams on all instruments, vocals and production. The vocals reveal the blessing of a distinctive voice, capable of delivering the messages consisting of concise lyrics. Very infrequently, however, the album sounds like a one person show the way some solo efforts by Stevie Wonder (and others) have: a little overproduced.

Williams was faced with the dilemma of releasing an album of impressive original work with less than ideal production. She made the right choice. That determination heard on "Heaven Suite" should continue to serve her well.