Paste (magazine) - "The multi-cultural rhythms of 'Woman (Oh Mama)' juxtapose the quick burst of vocal lines -- often two or three words -- to build an essential portrait of what women are made of."
Joy Williams, known to much of the world as half of the now defunct Grammy-winning Americana duo the Civil Wars, offers her first solo LP in a decade. In light of the much publicized dissolution of her partnership with bandmate John Paul White, her return to solo work comes loaded with the weight of fan expectations and the tumultuous life changes that occurred prior to the album's release. On a tip from friend Justin Timberlake, she connected with producer and multi-instrumentalist Matt Morris to craft the 11 songs that would become Venus, an expansive, decidedly modern record that marries Spartan electronic landscapes with warm acoustic elements. Aside from Williams' delicate voice, the sonic palette of Venus has little to do with the slick country-toned balladry of the Civil Wars. Nor does it have much to do with her early solo albums as a contemporary Christian pop singer, which at this point seem like a lifetime ago. A self-described "coming of age album," Venus channels the joys and hardships of becoming a mother, losing her father, losing her band, and nearly losing her marriage into a record that is at times vulnerable, defiant, feminine, bold, and above all, deeply personal. From the windswept drama of percussive, synth-led opener "Before I Sleep" to the sparse, confessional "One Day I Will," it's clear that Williams is fully engaged with her demons as she sails toward calmer waters. The celebratory tribal-sounding chant "Woman (Oh Mama)" and the tender piano ballad "What a Good Woman Does" allude to the powerful themes suggested by the album's namesake goddess, whose primary concerns involved love, beauty, sex, and fertility. Stand-out track "Sweet Love of Mine" was written for her son and cleverly mixes dark, synthetic gospel tones with trip-hop beats and a nice vocal breakdown that plays upon the gentle twang of her Civil Wars days. For the most part, Venus effectively distances Williams from the sounds of Nashville, setting the parameters for the kind of hybrid pop that suits the artist that she now is, or would like to become. It's the sound of someone coming out the other side of personal upheaval, and even if there are a few missteps, Williams connects in a very human way, providing plenty of allure for an album that feels very much like a debut. ~ Timothy Monger