One of the better variations of the same album Williams has been rerecording for over a decade now, My Better Self finds the singer-songwriter in typically fine voice and form. Like a Rosanne Cash for the indie set, Williams combines a highbrow, neo-folk lyric style with the voice and melodic sensibility of a pop singer. What sets Williams apart from her post-Lilith Fair contemporaries is her wit. Patty Griffin is a more evocative singer, Ani DiFranco (who provides harmony vocals here on a subdued cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”) does political outrage better, and Cash remains a more poetic writer. But Williams, to her credit, does all of those things very, very well, and My Better Self is perhaps the best, most consistently impressive set of songs she’s offered since 1996’s Mortal City. Though her political targets are a bit too obvious—opener “Teen For God” is something of a broadside, albeit a funny one—to be genuinely insightful or subversive (which puts them in the company of Green Day’s American Idiot, which certainly isn’t such bad company), but it’s when Williams takes her personal reflections and extrapolates them to broader, global concerns (her cover of Jules Shear’s “Echoes” is exceptional, as are the soulful “Two Sides Of The River” and the country-inflected “I’ll Miss You Till I Meet You”), My Better Self allows her candor to shine.
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