Yasmin Williams - Urban Driftwood Music Album Reviews

Yasmin Williams - Urban Driftwood Music Album Reviews
On her second album, the 24-year-old solo guitarist’s unique style finds inspiration from unexpected places and sounds untethered to any tradition whatsoever.

Yasmin Williams has described her approach to acoustic guitar as a kind of creative problem-solving. Drawn to the instrument after mastering Guitar Hero 2, she dreamed of tapping along the fretboard like rock virtuosos before her. Unable to replicate their style, she laid the guitar on her lap, tuned the strings in harmony with each other, and played it like a keyboard. Drawing from a love of hip-hop, she sought an underlying rhythm throughout her wordless, melodic compositions. Without an accompanist, she attached a kalimba—a type of thumb piano—at the bottom of her instrument, plucking it with her right hand while her left navigated the strings.
Williams’ inventive style, which has also involved wearing tap shoes and taking a cello bow to her instrument, has made her stand out in the field of solo guitarists. But the power of her music is its immediacy. The 24-year-old is not only a skilled technician but also an instinctive songwriter, penning memorable compositions that, even at their most open-ended, proceed in a loose verse-chorus structure. Her smooth and immersive playing belies the complexity below the surface. It is this talent that allows her to, say, cover a Swae Lee and Post Malone song, and have it sound as natural and spellbinding as her own work.

While Williams’ 2018 debut Unwind felt like a showcase for her versatility as a guitarist, her second album, Urban Driftwood, presents her more fully as a composer. It is more focused and fleshed out than its predecessor, with Williams complimenting her acoustic guitar playing with West African instruments like the kora and djembe. She has described the album as an abstract diary of her year in 2020: Opening with the light optimism of “Sunshowers,” it darkens into knottier, more contemplative material over the course of 10 songs. Pensive and bittersweet, the mood can recall William Tyler’s sonic storytelling or Mary Lattimore’s serene harp experiments.

Williams’ songwriting fits into an ongoing trend of instrumental music that more closely recalls the new age-leaning mood music of the Windham Hill label than the droning, pastoral fingerstyle approach of figureheads like John Fahey. But part of the thrill of Urban Driftwood is how untethered Williams sounds to any tradition whatsoever: She has a gift for penning melodies that feel as catchy as pop songs, as in the lightly descending refrain of “Juvenescence,” but her approach to the instrument also allows her to confound expectations, making you question the source of each overtone and rhythm.

The most dazzling moments are often the most intricate. In “Swift Breeze.” Williams uses everything at her fingertips like a percussion instrument, from the harmonics high along the fretboard to her persistent knocking against the wood of the body. In quieter songs like “Through the Woods” and “Dragonfly,” she finds melodies in repeated, hammered-on notes like cycles of birdsong. The clear, keyed-in production makes for a uniformly serene listen but Williams’ performance is masterfully physical; her strumming can sound like brushes on snare drums while her fingerpicking can echo like gentle taps across cymbals.

Other than a mournful violin accompaniment from Taryn Wood in “Adrift,” the only presence besides Williams arrives late in the album. Djembe player Amadou Kouaye offers a steady pulse through the title track, as his hand-drumming guides the album toward its narrative climax. “‘Urban Driftwood’ is more like the music I grew up listening to than any other song I’ve released so far,” Williams said in a press release, explaining the importance of paying homage to her heritage as a Black guitarist. As her kora blends with Kouaye’s rhythms, the collaboration offers a natural evolution for Williams’ music: Within these interlocking grooves, she is both listening and performing, finding her place in a vast history and fearlessly pushing forward.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Yasmin Williams - Urban Driftwood Music Album Reviews Yasmin Williams - Urban Driftwood Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, February 04, 2021 Rating: 5

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