There’s nothing that I love more than experiencing a sound that is original and entirely new to me, so the highly innovative work of Yasmin Williams never ceases to leave me completely awestruck. This is especially true with her genre-defying new record, Urban Driftwood.
The Virginian artist completely reinvents the concept of fingerstyle guitar music into something far more open and free. Williams incorporates fretboard tapping and hammering the strings (with an actual hammer, mind you) while accompanying herself with mic’d tap shoes and a kalimba straddling her guitar to broaden the textural and rhythmic qualities and potentialities in her songs. Her unique playing style transforms her instrument’s very sound, often making it chime like a miniature harpsichord. Meanwhile, her technique allows for hip-hop, jazz and even EDM beats to absorb into the pulse of her performances.
Williams is also accompanied by cello, kora and hand drums, which help her to flush out her sound, reach more complex melodies and a deeper range of emotions, all at the same time. For example, just listen to the dizzying but tense interplay of the kora, kalimba and guitar on the title track. Its rapid fire beats and crisscrossing polyrhythms (supported by guest djeli Amadou Kouyate’s hand drumming) conjure a sense of firm determination and internal vexation. Both these moods are then completely resolved by the cleansing catharsis of the next and final song, the radiant “After The Storm.” This kind of flow and vast range of compounded moods are not super common in fingerstyle guitar music.
Despite all of these technical advancements and Williams’ impressive skills, her compositions never lack heart. In fact, all of the songs on this album feel unquestionably and unabashedly human. Take for instance the gorgeous “I Wonder.” There’s a sincereness in this performances that makes it feel as though the fingerpicking is directly connected to Williams’ soul. There’s genuine hope, reverence and tenderness in these melodies. You can feel it immediately, even with just a casual listen.
With Urban Driftwood, Yasmin Williams has completely torn up the map of guitar soli music and has revealed an entire unexplored realm of new sonic directions and possibilities. I for one, am brimming with excitement to see where she, and other like-minded progressive artists that will surely come in her wake, will take us as they venture out into this new bright musical future.
You can preorder this record from Spinster Records ahead of its release on the 29th. Just click here.
PLUS: Click here to register to watch Williams play a free virtual show alongside Kaki King for Brookfield Place’s New Sounds Live series on January 28th at 7PM EST.