Yasmin Williams’ sophomore release builds upon the impressive instrumentation and technical expertise shown in her first album, and exhibits her ability to produce cheerful, magical compositions.
Yasmin Williams composes music almost exclusively for solo guitar — a fact that’s worth emphasizing because, listening to the fullness of Urban Driftwood, you might be tempted to forget it. Part of that is a testament to resourcefulness: To arrive at the sound she wanted, Williams had to augment her instrument with a kalimba, allowing her to accompany her rustling strings with occasional chimes, ringing as clear as any church bell. But more than that, the rich sound of Urban Driftwood conveys Williams’s ability to write orchestrally; her instrumentals typically begin with clean statements of melody that branch out into regally intertwined tributaries, Williams providing hypnotic, percussive effects by what might be a kind of magic. It’s not until the sixth song on the album, “Adrift,” that she’s joined by another musician: Taryn Woods adds resonant violin to Williams’s precise picking, and three songs later, Amadou Kouyate brings an insistent djembe pulse to Urban Driftwood’s title cut. Both guests’ turns are lovely and welcome — but they also feel like icing on the proverbial cake. By this point, Williams has proven herself a perfectly capable one-woman band.
Since Urban Driftwood was initially conceived by Williams to be a song cycle — capturing the fraught emotions of 2020 — it might come as a surprise to hear just how… cheerful the album sounds, particularly at its outset. The spritely “Sunshowers” opens the record with what feels like a dare; many of the subsequent songs feel more pensive, yet Williams remains steadfast in her commitment to melodic clarity, technical precision, and warm, welcoming compositions. Her music contains multitudes: The clean-cut verse-chorus structures of American folk music, loping African rhythms, sound effects that arrive from the ether and often defy quick explanation. Put it all together and you have a set to get lost in: A solo guitar album that exists not just as an exhibition of virtuosity, but as a conjuring of utterly ravishing, transporting songcraft.
Publisher as part of Album Roundup — February 2021 | Part 1.