Victoria Williams

A Louisiana Treasure

For our first artist profile, we wanted to start somewhat local. So we decided to go with an artist from Louisiana, an artist close to our hearts that has given us much inspiration and is played quite regularly from our speakers. Hopefully, you can walk away with either an appreciation or maybe even as a fan yourself.

Coming from Shreveport, Louisiana, Victoria Williams isn’t a name known to many, which is unfortunate; most prominent in the 90s, Victoria released a string of idiosyncratic releases that touch on various themes identifiable to rural living. Narratives that focus on eccentric characters, love, spiritual hymnals, and odes to everyday objects.

Although it’s rather difficult to find info on Victoria, her career did see success. Her debut was released in 1987 on Geffen records before eventually signing with Atlantic for most of the 90s. Along with her albums, Victoria amassed an impressive set of admirers and friends, which came in hand as she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1992, just as she was building an audience.

This diagnosis was a challenge as it impaired her ability to play guitar. Due to her lack of health insurance, her friends and admirers came together on a tribute album, Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams, which saw heavyweight artists such as Pearl Jam, Lucinda Williams, and Lou Reed covering her songs, which was the catalyst for Victoria’s creation of the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, helping cover the cost of uninsured musicians. Later tribute albums came, Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation released in 1996, this time in support of Vic Chesnutt, followed by the third compilation in 2013, Sweet Relief III: Pennies from Heaven.

It isn’t easy to gauge why her career doesn’t carry the same weight as fellow musicians active simultaneously; Gillian Welch, Neko Case, Lucinda Williams, and Emmylou Harris seem to have kept active, releasing albums into the 2010s and getting steady coverage as well as retrospectives. If you’re a fan of any of these, I’d suggest giving Victoria a spin. Perhaps her music is too eccentric for country radio while sounding too country for rock; she belongs to the alt-country boom of the 90s and yet hasn’t gained the same level of notoriety. Searching her name on Google will bring only minimal results, mostly archived articles from past magazine features.

The saddest part of this is that her music falls to the wayside. Victoria’s voice is one of joy. Songs from her debut like “Shoes” and “Frying Pan” offer a poetic appreciation of objects taken for granted; like hearing the unfiltered thoughts of a child sung by the voice of an adult, which is her most unique quality; Victoria’s music carries a rare innocence. At once she can sound both naive and wise.

Her debut, Happy Come Home, was released alongside a documentary (available on youtube), which showcases her likeability as she runs around, muses on the processes behind her songwriting, tells stories, and invites friends and families to play on the front lawn. This documentary is an effective representation of what makes Victoria special, it serves as a great introduction to those who’ve never heard her music as not only does it act as a long-playing music video, with segments highlighting choice album cuts, but as an intimate look into her personality. It’s difficult to not be won over by her charm and demeanor, for anyone growing up in a rural setting, the characters and scenery are familiar. It gives off the vibes of an old VHS home movie played back years later. A little awkward, but majorly heartwarming. The images work perfectly with the musical selection and some are more stylized than others. It can be both funny and twee, check it out.

As her career continued, she would expand her songwriting to include variations on the themes of her debut, and though her sound became more polished, she retained the charm of Happy Come Home always. Although “Crazy Mary” off 1994’s Loose was probably her most prominent moment in the mainstream, seeing her play late-night talk shows and touring extensively, it’s best known for being covered by Pearl Jam, off her very own tribute album. This is still the most likely chance someone has heard a Victoria Williams song, as to this day it can be heard on any rock station or Pearl Jam playlist. The point is, you’ve heard it. As the 90s came to a close, she put out two more albums, 1998’s Musings of a Creekdipper, and 2000’s Water to Drink, which would be her last album for Atlantic and her final studio album of original material. Both albums see her settling into both the sound and lyrical themes that she had been curating since 1987, just a little more refined.

In addition to her solo work, Victoria was also a member of the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers, a collaborative effort with her former husband, Mark Olson, until their last recording in 2004. Victoria and Mark’s partnership ended with their divorce. She continued into the new millennium, releasing a collection of standards in 2002 titled Sings Some Ol’ Songs. This album, however, was her last release before fading into relative obscurity. Since then, she’s played in touring bands and recorded various tracks with friends and features on other artist’s albums, but as for a release under her name, Victoria Williams & The Loose Band-Town Hall 1995, an archival live recording released in 2017 on Fire records, is her latest. She still performs live as well, recently playing a show with Big Thief.

Except for 1990’s Swing the Statue! and her standards compilation, you can find her studio albums on streaming platforms; however, her albums are out of print, and to grab a vinyl copy, your best bet is to check out independent sellers on Discogs. In the age of the internet, when revisionist history is always busy shining a light on the unseen or forgotten, what better time to aim the light toward someone worthy of having a more considerable following for her past work. One can only hope that labels like Light in the Attic or Numero Group can come across her discography and give it the remastered/reissue treatment it deserves!

In addition, the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund is still active and can be found on social platforms. For anyone looking to support, you can visit sweetrelief.org to donate and help spread awareness.

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