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An image featuring Kathryn Williams and Withered Hand sitting at a wooden table. Williams, on the left, is resting her arms on the table and looking directly at the camera with a faint smile, her long, wavy hair framing her face. Withered Hand, on the right, is seated beside her, hands clasped together and gazing thoughtfully to the side. Behind them is a cozy room with a lamp and framed pictures on the wall.

Kathryn Williams & Withered Hand – Willson Williams, a review

Explore Willson Williams, a summer album by Kathryn Williams and Dan Willson featuring British folk and pop tunes filled with warmth and nostalgia.

An album cover with a vintage aesthetic displaying the text "WILLSON-WILLIAMS" at the top in golden font. It features a portrait of Kathryn Williams on the left and Withered Hand on the right against a textured, mottled backdrop. Williams has long, wavy hair and a striped garment, while Withered Hand is in a brown shirt, holding a small bouquet of blue flowers. Below them, in smaller text, reads "Kathryn Williams & Withered Hand".
Release Date
26 April 2024
Kathryn Williams & Withered Hand - Willson Williams
Willson Williams, a sunlit summer album, features Kathryn Williams and Dan Willson’s harmonious collaboration, with standout tracks blending folk and pop influences. Supported by Creative Scotland, the album boasts contributions from Scotland’s music elite like Louis Abbott and Chris Geddes. Its nostalgic and joyful tunes, from the euphoric 'Sing Out' to the reflective 'Elvis', encapsulate a uniquely British summer vibe, melding warmth, friendship, and introspection.

As the seasons change, it always feels as though you need a “Summer Album”. One that will brighten everything, reflect the sunbeams, chase away the chill. This year, Willson Williams might just be that album. A warm collaboration between prolific singer-songwriter, Kathryn Williams, and Dan Willson, part of the Fence Collective and also known as Withered Hand, it is a lovely thing. It’s hazy and fuzzy, has an inner glow even when dark clouds hover in the background, is full of friendship and a glory in the little things. It feels like a very English summer. 

While it might feel English, the record was actually made with the help of Creative Scotland and features a wealth of Scotland’s finest, including Louis Abbott (Admiral Fallow), Graeme Smillie (Arab Strap/The Delgados), Kris Drever (Lau), Chris ‘Beans’ Geddes (Belle & Sebastian), Pete Harvey (Modern Studies) and Kenny Anderson (King Creosote). So, maybe it’s a very British summer. 

As with much of the album, ‘Arrow’ sees Williams and Willson taking alternate verses, their voices a seamless marriage of soft, thoughtful wordplay. Taking archery as a metaphor, they insist that they’re “still aiming for the gold” as effortless harmonies are plucked from their collective quiver. These two voices were meant to be together, the folk-ish setting perfectly nostalgic. ‘Grace’, too, is filled with blurry memories, once again buoyed by the harmonies that the two produce. Williams is a little sleepy, a little husky, her voice the sound of someone swimming up from dream layers, trying to catch hold of moments that are slipping away. Willson matches her beautifully as snatches of strings fill in the gaps. Grace by name and by nature.

Not everything on Willson Williams is drowsy with summer afternoon fuzz. On an album of highlights, the best track is Willson’s ‘R U 4 Real?’ Surfing in on Chris Geddes’ organ, it has hints of alt-Country and a splash of Fanclub-style powerpop. Wonderfully, Willson’s vocal carries something of Neal Casal with it, and that is very high praise indeed. He is witty, mellow and (almost) romantic.  

The slow songs are all lovely but the upbeat ones all work so well, too. ‘Weekend’ is full of do-do-doops and a bouncy sway. As with all of the best pop tunes, Williams and Willson hide anxiety beneath the sing-along, keeping darkness away with sunshine. Willson’s connection to the Scottish pop underground is strong here, Kenny Anderson’s accordion only adding to the Fence feelings. It’s homemade, with all of the connotations of love and kindness that that word has.

The love and joy are unconstrained on a fantastic cover of Cat Stevens’ ‘Sing Out’. The handclaps are feel-good fun, overflowing with summery vibes as Williams, and then Willson, triumphantly holler “yes” back at “if you wanna say yes, say yes”. This is the sound of friends playing music in the garden, just for the sheer enjoyment of it, as the sun sinks and another bottle of wine is opened. 

‘Elvis’ was written after seeing Elvis Costello in Newcastle and, filled with smart Costello references, it is slow, beautiful, dreamy. If “now is the time for dancing”, the dance is a woozy waltz; an organ, do-do-do-aahs, and those snug harmonies taking us by the shoulders, reminding us that it’s all ok. 

It’s this sense of affirmation and acceptance that sits across Willson Williams like an old, much-loved blanket. ‘Wish’ is filled with more gorgeous harmonies while ‘Sweet Wine’ is as intoxicating as sunset. Pete Harvey’s cello warming as Williams sings “last night I felt like I was swimming beneath your voice”, perfectly encapsulating the other-worldly symbiosis of these two. ‘Shelf’, the first single from the album, is both vulnerable and twinkly, echoes of Frightened Rabbit not too far from the surface, while ‘Our Best’ has guitar shimmers and those delightful harmonies.

At every turn, Willson Williams is a tremendously life-affirming thing. It envelops you in the warmest of embraces, bringing smiles with it. There is anxiety here, and grief, and doubt, but Kathryn Williams and Dan Willson remind you to find the good stuff and hold it to your heart. Stick this in your CD player and allow the summer to flow through you. 

Willson Williams is out on April 26th on One Little Independent Records. Order online from Norman Records.