Don Williams has enjoyed a long and successful career in country music beginning in 1964 and ending with his retirement in 2016. The much celebrated star decided at the age of 76 to stop touring so he could focus on enjoying his life with his family and friends. It’s understandable why after so long Williams would hang up his hat but his decision leaves a gap in the genre. A variety of Country music artists have come together to honour Williams with new album Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams.
It’s always difficult when an album of covers for one particular artist is put together. Inevitably the new recordings are compared to the originals and it’s often a no-win situation for the artists involved. In order for a cover to be truly successful, it needs to do something different with the source material while honouring the essence of it. Sometimes transforming a song can work well like Johnny Cash did with the Nine Inch Nails favourite Hurt and sometimes just a different kind of vocal performance does the trick such as Adele’s cover of Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love.
Thankfully the star-studded line-up for Gentle Giants pulls it out of the bag recording heartfelt and authentic homages to Williams. The 11 tracks here sound natural and they could easily be hits for the artists singing them. There’s no sense of karaoke here or checking boxes, each track deserves its place on the record and I’m sure Williams is feeling pretty proud. Pistol Annies – Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley – open up the record with their take on William’s 1978 hit Tulsa Time, taken from his Expressions album. The female trio give the track a harder groove and their harmonies are fantastic.
Brandy Clark does a stunning version of I Believe In You, which was a hit for Williams in 1980, and her ability to interpret the storytelling in lyrics is evident. If you didn’t know better, you’d think this was a cut from her most recent album. Elsewhere on the album Dierks Bentley moves away from the more polished sound of his recent work on the twangy Some Broken Hearts Never Mend, and Lady Antebellum lend their smooth harmonies to the fantastic We’ve Got a Good Fire Goin’.
Standout moments on the record come on Chris Stapleton’s live rendition of the stripped-back Amanda, which of course features his wife Morgane, and Trisha Yearwood does a magnificent version of Maggie’s Dream, reminding us all why she’s such a treasured star of the genre. Jason Isbell’s collaboration with Amanda Shires on If I Needed You is a genuine sping-tingling moment that requires repeat listens.
Other artists that contribute to the record include Keb’ Mo’ (Lord I Hope This Day Is Good), Garth Brooks (Good Ole Boys Like Me), Alison Krauss (Till the Rivers All Run Dry) and John Prine with Roger Cook (Love Is On A Roll).
Whether you’re familiar with Don Williams or not, there’s so much to enjoy here. The album is sure to please country traditionalists and it’s a fantastic celebration of one of the genre’s most enduring talents. Gentle Giants is a superb tribute to Williams and one that will be getting plenty of plays on my CD player for the foreseeable future.
Track List: 1. Tulsa Time (Pistol Annies) 2. I Believe In You (Brandy Clark) 3. We’ve Got a Good Fire Goin’ (Lady Antebellum) 4. Some Broken Hearts Never Men (Dierks Bentley) 5. Amanda (Chris Stapleton featuring Morgane Stapleton) 6. Till The Rivers All Run Dry (Alison Krauss) 7. Love is on a Roll (John Prine feat Roger Cook) 8. If I Needed You (Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires) 9. Maggie’s Dream (Trisha Yearwood) 10. Lord I Hope This Day is Good (Keb’ Mo’) 11. Good Ole Boys Like Me (Garth Brooks) Record Label: Slate Creek Records Release Date: 23rd June 2017