This 1996 album was a breakthrough of sorts for Dar Williams, moving her from the obscure folkie circuit to the obscure alternative singer-songwriter circuit. Mortal City comes closest to capturing her live show, and many ... more »of the songs here--"Iowa," "The Family," "The Christians and the Pagans"--have become live-set favorites. Like Williams herself, this disc is sentimental, sincere, and emotional; it's an album about growing up. When Williams titles a song "The Pointless, Yet Poignant Crisis of a Co-Ed," you know she's not writing fiction. She also could have called it "Catcher in the Rye," but that title was already taken. --Charles R. Cross« less
This 1996 album was a breakthrough of sorts for Dar Williams, moving her from the obscure folkie circuit to the obscure alternative singer-songwriter circuit. Mortal City comes closest to capturing her live show, and many of the songs here--"Iowa," "The Family," "The Christians and the Pagans"--have become live-set favorites. Like Williams herself, this disc is sentimental, sincere, and emotional; it's an album about growing up. When Williams titles a song "The Pointless, Yet Poignant Crisis of a Co-Ed," you know she's not writing fiction. She also could have called it "Catcher in the Rye," but that title was already taken. --Charles R. Cross
Christians & Pagans, Yes, But Much More. Give Dar a Try.
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 09/14/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The 1996 "Mortal City" album contains the song that introduces most listeners to Dar Williams: "The Christians and the Pagans." I first heard Williams live at the first Lilith Fair in Bloomington, Minnesota. It had rained a lot and the Second State could not be set up, so Williams got to perform on the Main Stage to 75,000 people. I still remember those who had never heard her before wanting to know about this song. It is a fun song and you have to admit that outside of novelty songs you do not come across many fun songs. There is a second fun song on "Mortal City," the droll coffeehouse song "The Pointless, Yet Poignant, Crisis of a Co-Ed," but it is a mistake to think that this sub-genre defines Williams work as a folk singer.Williams provides a wide variety of songs on this album, which comes from the time in her career when she did not have the type of accompaniment in the studio or on stage that she has shown on her last two albums. From the simple eloquence of "February" (which was covered by Joan Baez on her 1997 "Gone From Danger" album along with another Dar Williams song, "If I Wrote You"), to the rollicking beat of "The Ocean," to the wistfullness of "Iowa (Traveling III)," to the solemnity of the 7:15 title track, Williams covers a lot of ground in terms of musical styles and lyrical tones. Looking back from her "End of Summer" album released the next year, you get a sense that Williams was looking for her voice on "Mortal City," where I think she hits her stride in terms of both music and politics. After all, she is a Folk Singer, and there is a tradition to be maintained.I would judge "Mortal City" to be her second best album so far. You should listen to Dar Williams' albums in order, because you get a sense of growth as an artist. "Mortal City" is the end of her coffee house stage, leading to the college auditorium stage in which she usually performs today. This album provides ample proof for why Williams is popular with college audiences and sets up her current attempt to move up to the next level which she confronts the paradox of folk singers, how to be political and popular at the same time."
My best musical discovery ever!
E. M. Carey | New York, NY USA | 10/08/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When I stumbled upon Mortal City, having heard 'As Cool As I Am' on a very progressive radio station, I had no idea what I was in for, never having heard of Dar Williams. Once I bought the album, I was in shock - I had no idea that someone could write lyrics like that, put them to music and come out with such amazingly wonderful songs. Her words felt more like poetry to me, so complicated, so true, so funny, so different from what I'd been listening to.'As Cool As I Am' has got to be one of the greatest songs ever written - who knew that a strident yet entertaining feminst anthem could have such an enticing beat? I used to fantasize about appointing myself Dar's publicist and getting that song onto mainstream radio so that other people could her how wonderful it was - of course, I was too busy listening to her music to do much of anything else. The amusing 'The Christians and the Pagans' and '...Crisi of a Coed' are balanced out by the powerful 'The Ocean' and haunting 'February' and the rocking yet touching 'Iowa.' And these are simply jewels among other gems - the other songs each share the terrific music and unique lyrics, but they cover a wide range of styles and subjects. Dar's only misstep - and I feel almost blasphemous even hinting at that - is 'This is Pompeii,' which always seemed jarring to me, not fitting in with the rest of the songs. But even one less than perfect song cannot in anyway affect the beauty and power of this CD.For those who have never heard of Dar, this is the best album to start with even though it's her second. It's hard to resist Dar after hearing her humor, her sensitivity, her insight and her music. For those who know Dar but don't yet have Mortal City, this one is highly recommended. But in reality, everyone who does not yet have this album should definitely buy it - it's simply too wonderful to miss out on!"
Most incredible CD and Dar Williams CD I own!
Abby | Milwaukee, WI USA | 01/21/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Mortal City is a complex, passionate, and intricate web of poetic words, beautiful guitar, and incredible singing. Dar Williams is able to capture the listener's ears so easily because everything she sings to you is so honest and true and flows so beautifully. I have all 6 of Dar's CDs (The Honesty Room, Mortal City, End of the SUmmer, The Green World, Out There Live, and Cry Cry Cry) and yet this CD, the first Dar CD that I have ever bought (and Iowa, track 3, the first song I ever learned to play on guitar) remains my favorite of them all, and I strongly, STRONGLY encourage you to get this CD because on your first listen, you will become enthralled and a Dar Williams fan faster than you can say Southern California Wants to be Western New York (haha, that's track 10) :):)"
Found it in your boyfriend's collection? marry the guy.
panor | Jerusalem, Israel - a song about you | 07/09/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This album made me buy everything Dar williams has put out, and in my opinion, that is the one that will last more than two decades, Though there are "Mortal Cities" in all of her albums.Except for maybe Cosy sheriden, nobody writes like that. For writers and appreciators of writing, this album is a good lesson in how to deal with western culture. I wasn't expecting musical miracles, the genre does not demand it necessarily, but surprsingly, it is very rich. The surprise of "pointless yet poigenent..." is also musical, "February" and "Iowa" support the claim that one does not need that many chords to create a beautiful melody.Dar is a heerosexual feminist that undertands men as well. Nice. Unique. liten to "famity". Every song here is a jewel, You need 2 months to go through them all, because it can get too intense, at times. You might listen to 4 songs while reading the words, and then rest for a week, afraid of what might happen too you if you listen to the rest of them. Crying is unavoidable, but the Catharsis is wonderful. This is a very daring, very clever piece of art, from begining to end, Dar's Honesty Room is also recommended.(True, the title track is embarassing, but so is the situation described. Not every singer uses embarassment as an instrument, Dar is capable of that. I was sure it will be like Pink Floyd's "Money" in Dark Side of the Moon, but I find myself litening to it every time, without skipping.)"
One of the best Albums I've ever heard
panor | 11/06/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I had no idea who Dar Williams was when I was given a copy of Mortal City by my then girlfriend. She thought I'd like it as I am often times drawn to guitar based folk. I listened once and that's all it took. This is one of the best CDs in my collection. Ms. Williams has a spectacular voice that shines throughout the album and make sometimes uneven lyrics fall right into place. I have no particular favorites. Different moods draw me to different songs. There are no slouches on this CD. Anyone who appreciate poignant and powerful folk on the lines of Suzanne Vega, and Luka Bloom should definately purchase Mortal City."