My Better Self, the new album from singer-songwriter Dar Williams, is already being characterized as a departure for its notable element of political commentary.
Williams, though, thinks that sort of talk may be distorting the real thematic balance of the disc.
"People are saying, "Oh, you've written a very political album,'" Williams says. "Actually, one song touches on the political climate and my opinion, but in a telescoping, kind of historical context. And it's got the fire in it. Most of my albums have that."
The song to which Williams refers is "Empire," which expresses fear that the ostensibly honorable efforts of the Bush administration to spread democracy and quell terrorism really amount to empire-building under another name.
"Empire-building, that's what we're doing," Williams says. "I can say this with compassion, even; it's doomed and it's depleting, and it requires an enormous military reserve and an enormous military rhetoric to justify itself."
Williams includes a pair of covers on the album: the Pink Floyd classic "Comfortably Numb" and Neil Young's "Everybody Knows this is Nowhere."
"Comfortably Numb," in particular, seems an unlikely choice, considering Williams came out of the East Coast folk scene far removed from the British psychedelic/progressive rock roots of Pink Floyd.
"It's such a definitive comment on not just our times, but who we feel like in our times, how lost we feel as we grow up and accept that numbness," she says of the song. "I could relate to that, if nothing else."
"Comfortably Numb" and "Everybody Knows this is Nowhere" make perfect sense as complements to "Empire," as both could apply to the public consciousness in today's uncertain political climate.
Still, as Williams points out, many of the remaining songs are devoted more to matters of the heart. So if people debate the amount of political content on My Better Self, it will be harder to question the album's quality. It continues a transformation toward a poppier, more fleshed-out, full-band sound in Williams' music.
A native of upstate New York, Williams emerged in the mid-1990s from the Boston-area folk scene. Her 1993 debut, The Honesty Room, showcased her in a spare setting with bass, drums and occasional keyboards or strings judiciously augmenting her acoustic guitar melodies.
Williams, who now lives in New York City, gradually began to expand on that folk-ish setting over the course of her next two albums. But the real shift came with 2000's The Green World. For that, she switched producers, from Steven Miller to Stewart Lerman, and began beefing up the instrumentation in her songs.
Lerman is back as producer on My Better Self, and he and Williams have once again created a compelling offering one that also takes an occasional musical chance.
Williams plans to play many of the songs from My Better Self on her current headlining tour.
"We perform almost, well, eight or nine at least, off of the new album," she says. "Then whatever is left over for a tight show is a lot of fun. I cover some of that older territory in my solo [set]. But mostly, it's new stuff on this one."
Dar Williams with Spoon: "E-Town" radio show taping
Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder
Sunday, April 9, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $20, all ages; call 303/786-7030 or visit bouldertheater.com.