Alan Williams is one of my favorite musical discoveries of recent years. He’s a New England-based musician and chairman of the Department of Music at UMass Lowell, currently performing both solo and with the folk-rock trio Birdsong At Morning.
I first became aware of Williams in mid-2020, when his debut album Evidence Unearthed became available on an affordable CD/Blu-Ray package with 5.1 surround sound. The Jackson Browne-esque opening track, “Tell All The World,” had me hooked and the story behind the album was equally fascinating. It was a collection of songs originally written & recorded 25 years earlier for an abandoned album titled Evidence, now revitalized with newly-recorded vocals and strings.
I then went back and picked the CD/Blu-Ray editions of Birdsong At Morning’s A Slight Departure and Signs & Wonders, and was even more impressed by the music itself as well as the surround mixing.
Currents marks a strong continuation from Evidence Unearthed, with even more variety in terms of style, arrangement, and instrumentation. As always with Williams’ music, the string arrangements are a highlight and add a good bit of drama to the material. Genre-wise, the album combines elements of country rock, progressive rock, chamber pop, and folk for a wholly-unique result.
“Think Of The Night” makes for an explosive opening, with the massive-sounding drum kit filling the entire listening space. Williams’ commanding lead vocal emanates from the front and center speakers, with acoustic guitars and strings percolating from the rear.
Things then quiet down in the atmospheric “For My Heaven,” as acoustic guitars and shakers surround the listener. For the chorus, electric guitars and backing vocals suddenly appear from behind.
“Giving You A Warning” is one of my favorites on the album, a fun pop/rock tune with humorous lyrics and vocal delivery that nods to The Cars’ Ric Ocasek. The 5.1 mix uses the rear speakers for vocal echoes, drum ambience, and electric guitars.
“Fall From The Sky” returns to the mellow atmosphere of “For My Heaven,” with the surround highlight being a ticking clock sound in the right rear speaker.
“Season Of The Lottery” is perhaps the most ‘progressive’ track on the album, with its awesome extended guitar solo being a highlight of the album for me. Williams’ harmonies again wrap around the listening position to great effect.
The title track, “Currents,” is undoubtedly a standout from a surround standpoint. The ocean sound effects in the back speakers sound great, and the middle section with the drums spread over the entire soundfield and Williams’ telephone-EQ’d voice moving from speaker-to-speaker clockwise around-the-room is just too cool.
Though the overall sound quality on the mellower songs like “For My Heaven” and “Fall From The Sky” is phenomenal, I found the harder-rocking tracks like “Think Of The Night” to be a bit bass-heavy and fatiguing at higher volumes. It’s difficult to tell whether this is a result of Williams’ mix, Adam Ayan’s mastering, or some combination of both.
If you enjoyed any of Williams’ prior three 5.1 releases, this is a no-brainer. It’ll be interesting to see if he embraces Dolby Atmos for his next project.
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