Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams [Slate Creek, 2017]
Williams wasn't forceful enough to make himself a legend, but he had such a way about him that I was surprised by the credits on this MusiCares benefit, released a few months before he died September 8. I'd thought of him as pure auteur, a pop-folk singer-songwriter gone country. But he wasn't. These 11 tracks were written by 11 Nashville pros, collaborating occasionally but none listed more than twice, with Williams's sole credit a cowrite. Yet he is in control, so gentle even the Pistol Annies and Garth Brooks dial it down and even Keb Mo is tolerable. The exception is Chris and Morgana Stapleton, who take autobiographical possession of "Amanda" by revving it up, never mind that it was Jason Isbell who married an Amanda--Amanda Shires. Isbell-Shires, meanwhile, do "If I Needed You" so quiet there's no if about it. All in all, a lovely respite from the sturm and snark the times demand. A-