Joy Williams embraces new sounds and raw emotions on “Venus”

Joy Williams’ new record, “Venus,” is a breakup album — or, as Williams calls it, “a break-through album” — but it goes beyond heartache. You can almost hear Williams working through her emotions, dealing with the expectations placed on her specifically and women in general and meditating on what it means to challenge those expectations. It’s about picking up the pieces, reassembling yourself into something familiar but new and then moving along with your life on your terms.

The imagery in some of the songs — the ghostly whispers and raven’s feathers in “Before I Sleep,” for example, and the thorny crowns of the broody, atmospheric “The Dying Kind” — would be right at home on an album from Williams’ now-defunct duo The Civil Wars. Aurally, the strongly syncopated “Venus” is largely a departure from the duo’s old-timey, folksy sound.

Williams says she initially played the songs on the album with an acoustic guitar before her “love of Massive Attack, Annie Lennox, Portishead, Kate Bush and hip-hop” moved her to try out some different production styles. I’m not sure where Portishead fits into the mix, but I can hear a little Annie Lennox and even a very light bit of hip-hop in the production.

“The Dying Kind” in particular kind of sounds like Galadriel left Middle Earth and teamed up with Justin Timberlake to make a record. Which isn’t a coincidence, exactly, as Timberlake introduced Williams to her co-writer and producer Matt Morris and thus left what she calls his “invisible fingerprint” on the record.

In addition to the eerie-but-catchy “Before I Sleep,” I was particularly drawn to “Welcome Home” and “You Loved Me.” “Welcome Home” is an achingly pretty song. Williams has a beautiful, lilting voice, and the song is all strings and lyrics like “come inside from the cold and raise your weary soul” and “you’re wanted, you’re not alone.” “You Loved Me” sounds like a lullaby, but it’s a very melancholy one; “I had all the answers; it was easier than facing the dark.”

Overall, it’s a strong, empowered record. But the album does have a couple of tracks I’m not crazy about. “Not Good Enough” is the record’s most pop-country sounding track, with a little bit of Celine Dion warble thrown in. Neither pop-country nor Celine is my favorite, and it’s my least-favorite song on the record. Likewise, while I appreciate the sentiment behind “Woman (Oh Mama),” I found both the lyrics and the production a bit overdone:

I can’t find links to videos for anything else on the album, but you can preview it at iTunes and/or Amazon. “Venus” comes out on June 29.

Disclaimer: I participated in the Joy Williams “Venus” album review program as a member of One2One Network. I was provided an album to review but all opinions are my own.

9 sports flicks to watch on Family Movie Night

We’re re-instituting the Friday Night Family movie here at Butterscotch Sundae headquarters. Rather than spending 20 to 30 minutes arguing about what movie we’re going to watch, we’re going to take turns choosing. So I started making lists of movies I want to force the children to watch, and I thought I’d share them with you, too, in case you’d like to introduce your kids to them as well.

I’m not big into watching actual sports on TV, but I do love a good sports story. Here are some of my favorites.

The Karate Kid (1984)

karatekidFact: ’80s kids are incapable of washing their cars without employing the “wax on, wax off” technique.

“The Karate Kid” taught us important lessons about sportsmanship, work ethic and character. We also learned never to trust a blond dude wearing a bandana as a headband and that The Crane Kick is difficult but totally worth the effort.

“The Karate Kid” is available for $5 on DVD at Amazon. You can buy a digital download, too, but the DVD is cheaper.

Hoosiers (1986)

hoosiersRockford might stop speaking to me if I left “Hoosiers” off the list. This one’s got redemption, romance, an underdog story and a whole truckload of Midwestern nostalgia. It’s good stuff.

“Hoosiers” is available for purchase or rent at Amazon.

The Mighty Ducks (1992)

mightyducksI was still in my Emilio Estevez (thank you, “Young Guns”) phase when “The Mighty Ducks” came out, so my 14-year-old self was not opposed to going to a Disney movie about hockey. I’m grateful for that, because it’s a fun movie.

“The Mighty Ducks” is available for purchase or rent on Amazon.

A League of Their Own (1992)

aleagueoftheirownThere aren’t enough girl-power sports movies out there. This one is top-notch, and without it we would never have known just how much crying is acceptable in baseball. It’s probably my favorite Madonna movie.

You can buy a DVD of “A League of Their Own” for $5 or a digital copy for $8 on Amazon.

Rudy (1993)

rudy“Rudy” was responsible for my brief love of Notre Dame football and for my penchant to chant “Rudy” when I’m trying to inspire friends and family to greatness. It stars Samwise Gamgee Sean Astin as an unlikely football hero, and it is sappy, inspiring sports-movie perfection.

“Rudy” is available on Netflix.

The Sandlot (1993)

sandlot“The Sandlot” is a funny, heartwarming baseball movie, and I was not at all into funny, heartwarming baseball movies in 1993. And so I don’t think I saw this when it originally came out. I’m seeing the kid who played Ham all over the place all of a sudden, so I guess things are going alright for him.

“The Sandlot” is available on DVD at Amazon, but it isn’t streaming anywhere. Which is definitely killin’ me, Smalls.

Angels in the Outfield (1994)

angelsintheoutfieldI did see “Angels in the Outfield” in the theater, which must mean I was at my dad’s house when it came out because we went to a lot of family-friendly sports movies together.

It’s a sweet little movie, but I’d recommend it even if it wasn’t because it stars a very young and adorable Joseph Gordon Levitt.

“Angels in the Outfield” is available on DVD at Amazon.

Space Jam (1996)

Space JamWhen I was growing up, even the kids who weren’t Chicago Bulls fans acknowledged that Michael Jordan was pretty much the greatest basketball player of all time, ever. Now my kids know him as “the ‘Space Jam’ guy.” I’m OK with that, because it’s a totally tubular ’90s sports movie and it’s the only one on this list that features Wayne Knight and Bill Murray.

“Space Jam” is available as a Netflix DVD rental or to as a digital rental or purchase from Amazon. (But you should probably just buy “Space Jam” on DVD from Amazon so you have it in your permanent collection.)

Miracle (2004)

miracleAnother hockey movie!

I was a toddler during the 1980 Olympics, and I think I’ve sat through one hockey game in my entire life. So this story was pretty much new to me. It’s exciting true story, and it stars Kurt Russell. How could you go wrong?

“Miracle” is available for rent or purchase on Amazon.

A new favorite poem

Last weekend I found myself downtown with a little time to kill, so I went to the bookstore. I’m usually slow to make a decision at the bookstore, but this time I marched straight to the poetry section and picked up some Billy Collins and checked out. Then I sat on a bench, listening to a banjo-strumming busker and straining my eyes in the friscalating dusk light while I waited for my dining companions to arrive.

Collins’ “Today” was on Poppy’s memorization list a few years ago, because it makes me feel buoyant every time I read it and I hoped it would do the same for her. (As it turns out: She doesn’t remember memorizing it. I guess we’ll put it on next year’s list!) I wasn’t familiar with his other work, and I was happy to find that most everything in “Aimless Love” is just as accessible as “Today.” Here’s one of my favorites:


by Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife.
The crystal goblet and the wine …
– Jacque Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is no way you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley,
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and — somehow — the wine.