Personnel: Victoria Williams (vocals, electric guitar, piano); Andy Williams (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, sitar, Wurlitzer organ); Joey Burns (vocals); David Mansfield (mandolin, violin); Tim Ray (piano, organ); Don Heffington (drums, percussion).
Recording information: Town Hall, NYC (03/25/1995).
Editor: Chris Unck.
Victoria Williams is a gifted but polarizing performer -- you'll either be thoroughly charmed by her playful eccentricity, sunny optimism, "aw, shucks" demeanor, and home-brewed storytelling, or you'll want to walk out before the first song is over. But even those put off by her style (which, for good or ill, never seems less than sincere) would have a hard time denying her skill as a songwriter, and if you dig beneath the surface of her lyrics, you'll find well-crafted tales of real lives that aren't all sweetness and light. In 1995, Williams was touring in support of one of her best albums, Loose, with many of the musicians who played on the sessions joining her on the road. One of the dates from the tour was recorded and released in 1995 as This Moment: In Toronto with the Loose Band, and 21 years after the fact, another concert from the same run of shows has been given commercial release. Town Hall 1995 features a guest appearance from one noted Victoria Williams fan, Lou Reed, who leads Williams and the band through a low-key but winning rendition of "Sweet Jane," with the notoriously prickly Reed striving admirably to play nice (his admonition "Sing into the mike, Vic" is unexpectedly hilarious). Beyond that unusual moment, Town Hall 1995 plays pretty much like This Moment, which is to say it finds Williams and her crew in splendid form. These performances lend the songs a greater warmth than the studio renditions, and the musicians play with both taste and feeling, especially pianist Tim Ray, multi-instrumentalist David Mansfield, bassist Joey Burns, drummer Don Heffington, and guitarist and bandleader Andy Williams (no, not the "Moon River" guy). Williams is at the top of her game here, singing with passion and gentle force, and the set list is strong. Given that Williams' health problems have prevented her from recording or touring with regularity since the turn of the century, any addition to her catalog is a welcome event, and even if Town Hall 1995 sometimes overlaps with This Moment, the charm of this album is real, and anyone with a taste for her unique world view should enjoy it greatly. ~ Mark Deming