Amanda Jo Williams’ new record reflective of her past

Not too long ago, Amanda Jo Williams was a mother of two who performed in Woodstock before coming to Los Angeles to gather a solid fan base.

Although she’s been given the reputation of a sad, lonely mother who has suddenly made it big, the magical-sounding freak folk singer rejects this, saying in an interview for OBEY clothing, “I didn’t feel like a poor, young, mother, all miserable and crap, that some reviewers make it seem like. I was a strong thing like I am now still, never letting my circumstances confine me.” Her attitude toward her life is very much like that toward her music: Williams walks to the beat of her own drum.

Williams’ upcoming album, Mary’s Big Feet, is like listening to a little girl sing about the mystical woodland creatures that she sees in her sleep. Although Williams is now often referred to as a “Los Angeles-based singer,” the singer is from a variety of places whose histories come across in her music. Her time spent in Woodstock, New York was spurred by her interest in the free-wheeling singers who flocked to the area in the 1960s, but the most obvious influence on her music is her Southern childhood spent in Hogsville, Georgia, a small town that was once a plantation.

Songs like “I Am Just a Country Girl” and “Hunka Hunka Hoo Hoo” sound like tracks off of a country record from the 1930s, while “The Bear Eats Me” is like a little girl’s warning about the swampy woods behind her house. While her acclaimed album Yes I Will, Mr. Man is a rollickingly fun country album, Mary’s Big Feet is more stripped-down and introspective.

Instead of recording in a stationary studio, Mary’s Big Feet was recorded all over the country — wherever Amanda Jo could find a quiet room to record a song during her travels. The songs on the album range from the dark “The Bear Eats Me” to the incredibly childlike “Blue Toy Airplane,” a duet between Williams and one of her children. Yet this is arguably one of the more annoying songs I’ve heard in my life; her childlike voice, which can sometimes come across as a fun theatrical technique, in this song is at its most over-the-top and artifical.

Some of Williams’ tracks, such as “Waiting For You,” are almost irresistible, while “Die You” and “Doo Bi” are overly grainy home recordings that aptly feel like they’ve been pulled out of the fog of a dream.

While the lyrics aren’t necessarily original, “Wait For You” and “Die You” are two songs that benefit by from Williams’ simple and beautiful melodies, rather than from her theatrical voice. For those who are not as open to listening to Amanda Jo’s more experimental music, songs like “Why Don’t You Loo Me,” are hard to listen to, especially when Williams makes scary, cat-like noises that hinder an already melodically uninteresting song.

You will either love her or find her completely appalling. It seems that for now, however, Amanda Jo has found a willing crowd, as proven by her monthlong residency at the landmark hipster hangout The Echo.

Williams has been applauded for being different and wholley unique, but what once were original sounds are now becoming fallbacks of the genre.

Williams’ Mary’s Big Feet is already being reviewed as an original and authentic piece of art, but the theatrics of her childlike voice and the subject matter of which she sings about seem to be a fixture of freak folk and a current trend in the music scene, and therefore, nothing new.

Although you won’t find any overproduction or auto-tuning on this album, you also won’t find anything entirely authentic.


2 stars

8 replies
  1. Felicia
    Felicia says:

    The thing about people who listen to music as an art form not a heart form is that their ears become desensitized to sentiment over time. They become overly tuned to a certain way of receiving and critiquing sound and lose touch with the whole point of music. Can we please refresh our memories with a few definitions here? 1. ORIGINAL: A) belonging or pertaining to the origin or beginning of something; B) an original work, writing, or the like, as opposed to any copy or imitation. And 2. AUTHENTIC: not false or copied; genuine; real.
    Just because something may not sound original to a listener’s ears does not mean that the music is not a genuine reflection of the artist’s origin. Joanna Newsom has been doing her thing for ages just as Amanda has. Now that Amanda is gathering momentum and buzz it is easy for people to want to condense her whole existence into a mere “trend” and compare or link her to musicians whose names were more widely recognized first. While others’ names may precede her in terms of acknowledgment, we should straighten out this time-line a little bit… Amanda’s songs have been inspiring people for a decade, before anyone had heard of Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, etc.

    I love Joanna Newsom. And I love Amanda Jo Williams. I respect them both for doing what they do, starting from back when their music was for nobody but themself to the present moment at which it is available to the masses. It seems appropriate to say that fans of Artist A would be likely to appreciate the music of Artist B and vice versa, and in that way, yes, Amanda Jo is able to serve fans within a particular music “scene.” However, in a similar logic to two wrongs not making a right, I wouldn’t say two unique voices make either one less unique. They each stand alone and should be appreciated for what they are. A voice is no different from hair color or eyesight in the sense that we are given what we are born with, although the option to alter it exists if we so choose. To touch on that freedom, can Amanda play up her voice for a specific chorus or character? Sure (e.g. Heraseema Sara). But can she play it down? No. What you hear is her plain and simple. Speak to her (though be forewarned she’s shy) and you will hear that that is her god-given voice. If you were a fly on the wall and heard her speak in her dreams at night that is the voice you would hear. Just hear her giggle and you will feel her purity.

    Amanda Jo Williams is a simple gal who keeps it natural inside and out. She doesn’t hide or fake her accent, nor does she use auto-tune or fancy recording equipment or techniques, so indeed they are gritty. If you want to over-analyze that reality and call it pretension or a contrived response to a trend I analogize this absurd suggestion: next time you’re about to doodle randomly on a piece of paper, cap the pen. Suppress the urge to scribble that something until you can afford to create the unborn image however small, random, or silly in a professional artist studio that costs a fortune. Then return to what you were about to draw if you can even still remember and see if it comes out anything the same as it would have when it was FREE, in both usages of the word. Amanda’s songs are raw. Her songs are her heart on a plate. And whether served warm or cold, never doubt that they are served spontaneously (thank you laptop for always being a click away!). Garageband is her diary. Most of the songs on this record are improvised one-take doo-das. What for her may be an emotional release to press record and just GO (side-note: I dare you to press record and see what comes out of you for 2 minutes straight without stopping) we now get to keep as (pseudo-voyeuristic) treasures– her heartbeats compressed into mp3s, so thank you Heyday Publishing for that.

    When people hear music like Amanda’s they don’t know what exactly to do with it aside from attempt to label it, but they don’t know what, so they just call it whatever they call everything else that made them react this same way. Such as “freak folk” which came about as a term to peg Devendra Banhart’s music when it first hit the streets in a big way and people needed to coin a name to spit the game. He never liked that term. Who would? What does it even mean? And yet here people are still taking cheap short-cuts with words instead of truly reviewing the subject at large. What is the merit in regurgitating these terms and popular names despite their lack of relevance or influence on the actual subject here, which is supposedly Amanda Jo Williams: a woman who even the (seemingly undecided and contradictory) author admits walks to the beat of her own drum? And that she does. She may have a facebook account and enjoy a cupcake or a game of pool in a bar, but she’s about as off the grid as it gets for a modern woman in 2011. In the reality outside of the music biz pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game of genre match-up, Amanda’s life coexists alternately and individually from the aforementioned folks and/or scene. So if all we’re going to allow ourselves to judge her by is the surface of her songs, let’s remember that her songs are tokens and snapshots from her life, her real life. The one she’s been living since she was an angel-faced horse-riding, basketball-playing, tractor-riding bumpkin in Georgia.

    Unlike hearing someone robot-burping about a G6 or downing shots at a club, when we hear someone’s music as intimate as Amanda’s we are taking a mini trip into their life, a hike in their shoes. And as opposed to the dainty shoes you might find on Ms. Newsom’s feet or whatever the hip trend you might find on Mr. Banhart’s toes, I can guarantee on Ms. Williams’ feet you will probably find big old soccer cleats or something of the like. If you’ve had the privilege of meeting Amanda you know she is a rare rocket who will blow your mind, in the gentlest, sweetest way possible, like a snow globe. She is a teardrop of fire baked in a fluffy cloud. She is a nurturer, a mother not just to her own children. She is an old soul and she is true to herself always and forever. For those who gravitate towards her light and hop on for the ride, the unity she inspires among us really is beautiful. But as for everyone else too busy listening to actually hear, suit yourself. To quote one of my favorite songs of hers, “it doesn’t matter if you come or go.” She’s flying high on a different type of plane.

  2. Jane C.
    Jane C. says:

    Dear Joce,
    Amanda is a mother of three, and she’s from Hogansville. She’s not copying anyone. I love Amanda’s voice, and don’t see anything but a superficial resemblance to JN, who has a different approach and style. They resemble one another only to the extent that either may resemble any other contemporary.


  3. Jane C.
    Jane C. says:

    Ms. Geoghan had apparently not heard or heard of Amanda Jo Williams before cramming for this review, as evidenced by the inaccuracies in her piece (Hogsville, mother of two, made it big, et al). It may be difficult for a jaded reviewer to accept that someone as unique and wholly organic as AJW is not putting on an act, or assuming a genre stance. Be assured: She’s just doing what comes natural. Of course it’s not for everybody. Cutting edge art never is.

    • Joce
      Joce says:

      I’ve been a fan of Amanda Jo Williams for awhile now and I can attest to the fact that she is a mother of two and she is from Hogsville. Even though I love her music, though, i’ll be the first to admit that it’s so not original…just copying what ms. newsom’s been doing for awhile now

  4. Turtledove
    Turtledove says:

    A friend turned me on to miss Amanda Jo last nite and her new album “mary’s big feet” whew, I was taken back at first. Then found myself completely falling into the spontaneity of her sound. Pure beauty. Have never heard anything quite like it.

  5. billy
    billy says:

    If you are going to claim this isn’t authentic or new, then name someone else who has something like it. I can’t think of any female singer right now who is like this.freak folk or not. But would love to see how you can substantiate that big claim. also, her voice isn’t an act or a theatrical choice. That’s her natural voice.

Comments are closed.