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My Better Self

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Critics' Reviews

amg review
Starting from the atypically playful cover photo of Dar Williams sticking out her tongue, stained from the blue jawbreaker in her hand, My Better Self is clearly a big departure for the New England folkie. In contrast to both her sparse early records and her more recent albums that had hesitantly worked a wider range of musicians into her guitar-and-vocal tunes, My Better Self kicks off with the self-confident AAA folk-rock jangle of the sardonic "Teen for God," a rueful but affectionate memory of earnest adolescent moralizing set to a jaunty pop tune. This is in no way a sell-out attempt to appeal to a wider pop audience, but an opening up of Williams' music to incorporate unexpected but entirely appropriate new musical and emotional shadings. Williams steps up to the challenge with some of her finest material, including the instant classic "Beautiful Enemy." Quite possibly the finest song Williams has yet recorded, "Beautiful Enemy" matches a sharp lyric (including possibly the first chorus to turn the word "hegemony" into a vocal hook) to a terrific '60s pop melody that's given a strong pop-rocking arrangement powered by a killer organ part; for the first time, Dar Williams sounds more like Aimee Mann than Shawn Colvin, and it's an exciting transformation. The '70s California rock touches on the illegitimacy ballad "Liar" send what might have been just another acoustic folk tune into a direction closer to a vintage Fleetwood Mac or Carly Simon single, and all the better for it. Even the nervy cover choices, Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" and Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" (released shortly after the Scissor Sisters' glammy reinterpretation of same), come off well in the context of Williams' introspective originals. Stewart Lerman's production and arrangements bring in guests like Marshall Crenshaw, Ani DiFranco, and the guys from the Hooters (Rob Hyman co-wrote two songs, in fact), but this remains Williams' album throughout, and it's the best of her career. Her better self indeed. ~ Stewart Mason, Rovi