Music Review: Katie Williams of Norman Oklahoma

“Force of Nature” album

12873491_10209249768626022_1338532263_oJust as thunder rumbles across the plains to tell of a coming storm, so comes the music of Katie Williams. From out of Norman, Oklahoma— arguably Oklahoma’s last bastion of wholesome weirdness—Williams is an acoustic-guitar-wielding singer-songwriter as stirring and bold as an F5 tornado.

I first heard her music as it made the rounds on social media. People posted YouTube videos of her performances and links to her tracks intermittently at first, but the frequency grew until Williams’ music seemed to be all around me. Suddenly, I noticed, it seemed Williams was playing alongside or collaborating with every local, hard-working musician on my radar.

Then, last fall, came the album. The six-song Force of Nature has been garnering attention as the tracks gain momentum on social media and the FM waves. As complex and sophisticated as a fine, Oklahoma-brewed Prairie Artisan Ale (and just as earthy, warming, and unique), the album shows no signs of being a freshman release. There is nothing in this recording that sounds cheap or amateur. It is slickly produced but remains defiantly true to its source in its simplicity and raw beauty.

Though her guitar work in its chugging rhythms may be reminiscent of Johnny Cash, and the influence of Emmylou Harris’s endearing, twangy voice is pleasantly clear, it would be unfair to pigeonhole Force of Nature as simply a country album. It would be equally unfair to label it as folk music or Americana—even though Williams’ lyrics evoke that uniquely American old-school, working-class imagery. Fans of these genres will of course find themselves welcomed into the warm embrace of Force of Nature. Yes, Williams’ music is definitely country-folky-Americana, but it’s something else, too—something intangible.

It’s the music of smoky barrooms, of front porch rocking chairs. It’s the music of lonesome firelight, and it’s the songs of a gypsy. I can’t tell if it’s haunting or haunted.

In lyrics like, “Does she know the way you wear your heart tied on your arm like a sailor knot?” Williams recaptures a forgotten folk sound—not the folk that the ironically-mustachioed, banjo-carrying hipsters are peddling now. These tunes are folky in the classical sense. It’s the back-country kind of folky; old-timey but not merely an affectation.

Williams, her voice sometimes quivering and other times guttural, captures something new. It can only be explained as some sort of black magic. It’s a little like Stevie Nicks, if Stevie Nicks were fun to listen to. And it’s a little like Dolly Parton at her best, and Iris Dement if she recorded some long-lost tracks in a softer tone. Williams pays homage to these icons but does not mimic them. Instead, she has produced an album iconic unto itself. It’s personal, raw, welcoming, comforting, and unsettling all at the same time. Force of Nature resonates with every bit of joy and pride and heartache and loneliness within me all at once, and in doing so produces sensations that I long for when they’re gone.