Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
The works of Victoria Williams, whether self-penned or culled from dusty sheet music, are an all-or-nothing proposition. Either you give yourself over to the wide-eyed sentiments, the halting, warbly delivery, and the threat of impending cuteness, or you bolt for the nearest exit. Williams’ latest offering is 11 ol’ songs—again, if that apostrophe is going to keep you up nights, run off and play with Smash Mouth—and as much as I’d rather ride the flights of fancy in Williams compositions such as “Summer of Drugs” (from 1990’s Swing the Statue!) and “Polish Those Shoes” (from 1994’s Loose), I’m OK with her coasting through a few standards. So laid-back that some of its tracks were recorded in 1993, Sings Some Ol’ Songs nonetheless wins you over with unexpected touches. Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” opens with a shy-sounding Williams crooning to herself while playing a kalimba, then sweeps into joyous extroversion with “Never saw the sun shining so bright,” a sentiment that ol’ Irving himself might have written for ol’ Victoria. This selection (and others) features the same hand percussion and syncopated rhythms adopted by Williams on her previous album, 2000’s covers-and-originals Water to Drink. Some of the most appealing tracks on Ol’ Songs, however, are the least familiar: The dreamy, drowsy “And Roses and Roses” is from Perry Como’s 1966 LP Lightly Latin, and “Mongoose,” which evokes Louis Prima at his wildest, is by wayward exotica-meister Eden Ahbez. Sure, the world needs another recording of “My Funny Valentine” (in which Williams’ wobbly vocal makes her more funny than lovable) about as much as it needs another season of Friends. But an artist with Williams’ vision and vigor, which have persisted through nearly a decade of fighting multiple sclerosis, ought to be able to put her feet up once in a while—just as we ought to be forgiven for giving a temporary damn about whether Rachel marries Joey. —Pamela Murray Winters