Keep it country: Don Williams’ ballads strike a chord

Don Williams
Don Williams
  • The ‘Gentle Giant’ of country music

DON WILLIAMS is a performer with a huge following in Northern Ireland, ever since the husky Texan emerged in the 1960s with a very distinctive balladeer style.

The straightforward yet smooth and rich bass-baritone voice, soft tones, and imposing build, earned the 77-year-old the nickname ‘Gentle Giant’ of country music.

Don, with his battered cowboy hat and downhome garb, has been a constant on the touring and recording scene for most of 50 years and, although he never received the recognition he richly deserved on the Nashville ‘Music City’ scene, his star has always shown brightly in middle America, the United Kingdom and in other parts of Europe.

Don made what may be his last appearance in Belfast - at the Waterfront Hall in June 2014 and I had the immense pleasure of being present.

While still doing occasional concerts in the US, Don has cut back considerably on his work routine. However, his music is now subject of a ‘Pistol Annies’ reunion in a new ‘Songs of Don Williams’ album due out on May 26 and featuring, among others, Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, a singer/songwriter no relation of the late rock ‘n’ roll ‘King’.

Part proceeds from the tribute compilation to Don will benefit the Recording Academy’s charitable foundation MusiCares, which offers financial and medical assistance to US music professionals in times of need.

Williams announced his retirement from performing in 2016, ending a successful 50-year career that includes a galaxy of awards and 17 No 1 hits. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010.

The full track listing for the new album is: 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 Mend (Dierks Bentley). 5. Amanda (Chris and Morgane Stapleton). 6. Till the Rivers All Run Dry (Alison Krauss). 7. Love Is On A Roll (John Prine and Roger Cook). 8. If I Needed You (Jason Isbell and 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). Other big hits for Don were Gypsy Woman and We Should Be Together.

The new album will be first released in the United States and will undoubtedly be much-sought-after when it reaches his significant fan base in the UK.

Don Williams has had a strong influence over a variety of recording artistes of different genres. His songs have been covered by Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Lefty Frizzell, Josh Turner, Sonny James, Alison Krauss, Charley Pride, Kenny Rogers, Alan Jackson and Waylon Jennings.

* WILLIE NELSON has a new album titled God’s Problem Child due for release by Legacy Recordings on April 28, the eve of his 84th birthday. The album features 13 new songs that reflect on mortality while marvelling at the beauty and absurdity of it all. Willie, and Buddy Cannon, his longtime collaborator and producer, co-wrote seven songs for the album.

The opening song is Little House on the Hill, a song written by Lyndel Rhodes, Cannon’s 92-year-old mother. A tribute to the late Merle Haggard, He Won’t Ever Be Gone, closes the collection. Merle’s final album was a 2015 Nelson collaboration, Django and Jimmie.

God’s Problem Child will be Willie’s studio album with Legacy since 2012’s Heroes. His collection, Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin, is nominated for best traditional pop vocal album at the Grammy awards this Sunday.