Sometimes I hear a piece of music that instantly evokes such a vivid, vibrant world of imagination in the first few minutes that I have no choice to write something about it. Spellbinding as the moment is, it’s hard to do it justice, but for me, there’s still an intense desire to try; to find words and ideas that will, at the very least, recall that first dance with the music. Yasmin Williams’ sublime Urban Driftwood demands that attention. Within about 20 seconds of opener “Sunshowers,” I was hooked. By the end, I could barely catch my breath.
Solo guitar music is often a mixed bag, but when a performance clicks there aren’t many modes of expression that hit me as hard. So much in the style, even the good stuff, isn’t necessarily innovative or new, but Williams’ sound and style is unlike anything, or anyone, else. She has as much, if not more, in common with the meditative aspects of new age or rhythms of hip hop as she does with the Fahey or Basho schools of Appalachia fingerpicking. Structurally her songs even get into pop zones with verse-chorus-verse sequences not feeling out of place. One of the first videos I saw of her playing was this performance of “Through the Woods” and I was floored:
It isn’t just her lap-style of playing or how she handles the guitar more like a keyboard, but also how she adds rhythms in specific passages with either tap shoes, the body of the guitar, or the kalimba she’s attached to the instrument that elevate her work to a new level. Her technical prowess is beyond description, but her talent as a songwriter is the real magic that she uses to conjure deeply emotional, all consuming worlds with her sound. Within the first few chords of “Juvenescence” I’m transported to the moment I was boarding a plane, leaving home and everything I’d known to take a massive risk in my life. Balanced between fear and excitement, holding on to the promise of something greater we find meaning. We find connection. We find hope. Martin has lived that and breathes it like the sweetest air on Urban Driftwood.
Meandering through Urban Driftwood is a timeless journey through important, and at times painful, memories. Williams’ own experience resonates throughout Urban Driftwood and that unique vision adds a deeper sense of place and stronger connections to hold on to. What an incredible experience it is to hear an artist come into their own and be able to sit back and appreciate the work, the vision, and the belief that gets them there. She is challenging the ideas I have around guitar music and what is possible. Yasmin Williams is already a force, but she’s still only scratching the surface of how deep she can ultimately go.