Album Review – The Williams Brothers – “Memories To Burn”

For your listening consideration is this slightly curious, but certainly seductive offering from a duo that once was, isn’t really any more, but nonetheless taps into something eternal in musical truth to offer an album that takes you back, and entertains wickedly. It’s called Memories To Burn, and if you’re one of those souls who feels elevated whenever the blood harmonies of the Every Brothers or other close singing duos hit your ears, this will be right up your alley.

The Williams Brothers were originally signed to the Warner Bros. record label from 1987 to 1994, and released three albums. Though the instincts of the label were right that recording twin brothers Andrew and David Williams could result in magic—and to not stifle that magic you had to keep any music accompaniment simple—aside from the semi-hit “Can’t Cry Hard Enough” from 1992, the project came and went without much notable recognition.

The new album Memories To Burn is just as much about producer, songwriter, and Lone Justice member Marvin Etzioni finally trying to make the magic of Andrew and David Williams work in the studio as it is anything else. The two brothers don’t really perform together anymore and have mostly moved on. But Etzioni was there for the original era of the band, co-writing “Can’t Cry Hard Enough” and others, and almost as a challenge or a passion project for himself, wanted to capture what these brothers are capable of for posterity.

Along with producing the album, Marvin Etzioni also writes four of the album’s tracks. But the genius of the album is to not try and take the two-part blood harmonies of the Williams Brothers and sell it to the modern music market as was done before during the Warner Bros. era, but instead to go in the opposite direction and try to capture the original spirit that made the Everly Brothers so significant that the duo became first year inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and eventually Country Music Hall of Famers as well.

Writing or procuring the right crop of quality songs, and recording everything live and in one take just like the Every Brothers did results in a listening experience that’s as haunting as it is gratifying. Though Memories To Burn is officially 28 years in the making, it really feels like a relic from 60 to 70 years ago unearthed and dusted off in the refuse of some forgotten music collection in an abandoned farmhouse melting into a field in middle America, and brought to life to evoke potent memories of better eras in music and life.

The songwriting of Robbie Fulks is employed for the opening song “Tears Only Run One Way,” which immediately sucks you in with its vintage sound and those succulent close harmonies. Another excellent Robbie Fulks selection in “She Took a Lot of Pills (And Died)” also makes the cut, along with Iris Dement’s “Let The Mystery Be” and “Death of a Clown” by The Kinks. The duo also writes for themselves on the song “She’s Got That Look In Her Eyes.”

Song selection was really critical to making this project work, and it gets it right by choosing well-written compositions that also fit within the vernacular of the Sun Studios era they’re looking to evoke, while the steel guitar of the great Greg Leisz offers spirited compliments. Except for Leisz, Marvin Etzioni on bass, drummer Don Heffington, and Andrew Williams on acoustic guitar, there is no other musical accompaniment or overdubs. It’s all raw and real, with flawless performances turned in by The Williams Brothers, even if audiophiles may want a little more clarity and separation in the tracks.

The longest song on Memories To Burn is 2 1/2 minutes, and four of the songs come in at under 2 minutes. But in the 30-minute run time, Marvin Etzioni and The Williams Brothers do more than what some labor at for weeks to not accomplish because it fails to capture those kernels of human emotion that so much of modern music misses in it’s misguided attempts at evolution and innovation.

Music must grow and evolve to some extent, but when it moves too far away from the eternal truths of music that The Williams Brothers capture here, it falters, while an album like Memories To Burn that is insulated from trend and era will always endure.

7.8/10

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