Holly Williams has quite the legacy to follow up. She’s born into one of the most legendary country music families in America, and with Hank Williams Sr. as her grandfather, Hank Williams Jr. as her father and Hank Williams III as her half-brother, it can’t have been easy start singing and playing for herself.
In her song “Without You”, where Jakob Dylan duets with her, she addresses this:
«I got here on crowded trains
With old guitars and a famous name
Running like a kid»
She started out with a plan to just write songs for others, but ended up releasing the album The Ones We Never Knew in 2005. Then, after a near fatal car accident in 2006, she had to re-train her arm to play guitar again. While setting up successful a clothing-store, she wrote songs for her second release Here With Me, released 2009. It’s one of my favorite albums, where she really shows that sometimes talent can be passed on through generations.
History lesson aside, this means The Highway is Holly’s third album and it’s her best album to date, even better than Here With Me.
She has found her voice, and her songwriting has evolved to a point where she’s not just a songwriter, but a storyteller – and a conveyer of stories where she can choose which voice or character suits her storytelling best. The first of two great examples is “Railroads”, where she tells it from a male characters point of view:
«I had me a woman but she took my kid
When I gambled all our money on a moonshine still
Now I drink my whiskey from a beat up flask
This train done departed and it’s goin’ fast»
The second being the closing track “Waiting on June”, where Gwyneth Paltrow sings backup. This is her tribute to her grandparents on her mothers side, where she tells their story from they met until they died. This is a touching story and a piece of impressive songwriting as personal as they come, written to her grandmother from her grandfathers point of view.
She has a good number of collaborators on this album, Jakob Dylan and Gwyneth Paltrow already mentioned. Her husband Chris Coleman contributes as a songwriter and a musician and singer, but what’s really my favorite is Jackson Brown’s duet on “Gone Away From Me”. His voice really suits Holly’s. I love Jackson Brown, and it’s great to see young, new artists appreciate a man of his stature.
The only song that could have been omitted is the totally superficial “A Good Man”. To me it’s just a piece of random lyrics dumped on top of a melody to create some kind of hit. It’s co-written with Sarah Buxton (or all written by Sarah Buxton, I’m not sure – as Holly for some reason chose to omit the liner notes and cover from her digital pre-order package), and it really lacks the substance of Holly’s own songs. There’s no story here, nothing to give this any kind of value when compared to Holly’s strong, personal lyrics that make up the rest of the album.
The title song “The Highway” should have all the trimmings to become a massive radio hit for Holly. Catchy melody, well produced and it talks about driving down those long, American highways. What more could a DJ want?
Her ability as a songwriter really shines on this album, but what gets me is her role as a storyteller. This is Essential Listening, and you know we just don’t throw those around for fun over here at Ninebullets!