Kathryn Williams was one of those acts that laid the ground work for the folk revival of the last fifteen years without us realising it at the time. Much like her contemporary Eliza Carthy, there was a certain level of buzz around Kathryn Williams at the end of the 90s, and there were a few publications singing her praises. Not that this really crossed over to radio play outside of Radio 2’s folk hour, but there was an increasing number of folk festivals for her to impress the old guard, and after years of being on the very periphery of mainstream music, it finally seemed that maybe, just maybe, folk music might one day be cool again.
Little Black Numbers was Kathryn Williams’ moment in the mainstream sun. An album that displayed William’s considerable song writing skills, her tuneful voice, and a well judged hybrid of folk vibes and singer-songwriter familiarity. Little Black Numbers was a folk album that didn’t feel the need to shout about it. No olde-worlde folk-lore, no self-righteous finger-pointing, and no sodding hurdygurdys, just a singer with a nice voice, a way with words and enough nous to write about relationships, lost love and other things that might appeal to people other than the mainstream folk audience, with “Fell Down Fast” being one of the great low-key break up songs. It paid off too. Little Black Numbers charted well, and seemed to hang around the lower reaches of the album charts far longer than your average act playing the mid-afternoon slot at the Cropredy Festival.
In terms of its music Little Black Numbers is a sweet mix of acoustic guitars, subtle strings, reined-in drums and the odd swirling organ. Here and there Williams’ vocals are double tracked to nice effect, and the whole thing makes for a pleasing listening experience.
The nice thing about Little Black Numbers is that it at no point sounds like a compromise. This isn’t a folk musician writing a mainstream album, or a singer songwriter deciding to explore their folk muse for shits and giggles, this is the sort of material that Kathryn Williams just does naturally.
It’s a shame then that Williams gets so little credit for her pioneering chart-bothering when people talk about the recent folk revival. She’s the one name that seems to get forgotten when that conversation is had. Maybe it’s because she wasn’t folk enough, or didn’t rub shoulders frequently with the likes of Noah and the Whale, Mumford & Sons, or The Staves. Maybe it was because Williams just wasn’t “folk” enough, or simply because she was just very (very!) slightly older than folk’s hot young things, but whatever the case, it’s an unjust oversight.