Chelsea Williams’ rich, flutey, Stevie-Nicks-ish voice is the leading instrument on the smart, mellow, and well-written songs of Beautiful & Strange. She manages to make every track both comfortable and interesting, with lyric production never drowning her voice, and the import of the words never lost in the shuffle.
Williams, who has been writing songs and singing since she was 12, made a name for herself busking at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. Kirk Pasich, president of Blue Élan, heard her there and signed her to the label, and Williams’ debut record Boomerang (2017) was well received. Beautiful & Strange, like the earlier record co-produced by Williams’ husband Ross Garren, has a similar sound, but sharper songs, suitable for these strange sad days.
Williams calls her own style “Americana with a bit of modern pop, topped off by a healthy dose of reckless abandon,” and this is on the money. From the opening track, “Wasted,” the incongruously boppy story of a failed bitter love, you feel it all:
Changed my name and my address,
can’t get further west
still, there’s something tugging at my sleeve …
The lyrics feel and hurt, and then the sweet oooooh-ahhhhs and tinkling instrumental xylophone bells chime in. Hard on its heels, “Red Flag” is a pure country top ten on being knocked off your feet by that same old devil love.
The title track is a hurdy-gurdy funny philosophical self-reflection; “Something Sweet” would have been the perfect hit for Edith Piaf. “Dust” and “Fffun,” truly from the opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, are my own favorite songs.
Says Williams of the album, “The overarching theme of Beautiful & Strange is that regardless of all the lies flying around and clashes in ideology, I still think that there is an exquisite charm and beauty to all of the chaos. Sometimes, I think about what would happen if we could all just step back for a moment and appreciate this beauty.” Yes, step back, sit down, and listen. You’ll be glad, and you will feel better, too.