It's been said many times, but it's worth saying for eternity: There is no one with a voice like Don Williams. In its gentle, slow, and airy baritone drawl, it transfers emotions to a listener that perhaps the songwriter never even thought were in his tune. Williams had a very good year in 1978. Expressions is like a summing up of everywhere he'd been since the Pozo-Seco Singers and the places he was journeying to. Recorded at Cowboy Jack Clement's studio and produced by Williams with Garth Fundis, the album features a crack band that includes Johnny Gimble on fiddle and underground pedal steel ace Lloyd Green. On the opener, "I Would Like to See You Again," when Williams' voice enters over a mandolin strummed between the acoustic guitar's fingerpicking changes, the listener realizes that this is a Don Williams love song. Despite the fact that the beloved is nowhere in sight and hasn't been for some time, Williams delivers the wish as if it were a poem in her presence. The mood is followed by "You've Got a Hold on Me," with a killer country hook as Williams sings, "You're not even here/I'm in love with a memory…," and the truth in the lyric dawns on the listener.
But it's not all love songs. Williams' read of the gem "Livin' on Tulsa Time" is a downright funky cowboy tune and uncharacteristically dirty and nasty. And then there's the second side, which opens with "Lay Down Beside Me," one of the most tender and moving songs Williams ever delivered. In fact, it becomes clear that this album is appropriately titled in that its ten tracks are Expressions on the state of the artist as an artist. The songs hold no bounds. All are stripped down to the essence of the emotion they communicate, whether it is joy, brokenness, loneliness, celebration, or quiet reflection and the touch of pain in the heart at old memories; they are all expressed as simply as possible by a singer whose empathy is unlike any other. "Give It to Me" is a track Johnny Lee wishes he's recorded first, and then "Not a Chance" is one of those sad songs where Williams' protagonist blames himself for his loneliness, his tenderness and love too deep to blame the one who wronged him. As the album closes with another sparsely orchestrated song on "When I'm With You," it becomes clear that the old cliché "it's the singer, not the song" is dead-on when it comes to Williams in particular and this devastatingly great record in general. ~ Thom Jurek