At a time when artists seem to emerge from the woodwork to prove just how “country” they truly are, some are simply born that way. Take, for example, Holly Williams.
Her last name speaks volumes about her heritage and her involvement with country music. After all, her grandfather, Hank Williams Sr., helped pioneer that lonesome country sound. And later, her father, Hank Williams Jr., followed in those same footsteps, establishing his own country music career and becoming a second-generation superstar.
“I think people are expecting, rowdy, Bocephus’ daughter, drinking songs,” Williams said of her just-released second album, Here With Me. “And I love those songs. They’re great, but my dad wrote all the best ones. I don’t want to try to top those.”
Instead, the 28-year-old singer-songwriter is harvesting a style all her own. Her music is perhaps somewhere between the boisterous style of her father and the solitary songs of her grandfather, but whispers of her family legacy are sprinkled throughout.
“I’ve always written songs that are very introspective, very personal,” she said during an interview with CMT.com. “I like writing that way. Anytime it makes me nervous, I just think about my favorite song and my favorite artists and [how] I’m so happy when they completely bare their soul. I’m really touched by honesty, and I’m trying not to let fear get in the way of that.”
She has written or co-written a majority of the songs on Here With Me. The emotions range from serious matters of divorce and near-death to whimsical fantasies of a one-night stand with a stranger. Her music is soft and insightful, a window into where she’s been and where she may be headed next.
She wrote “Without Jesus Here With Me” after she and her sister, Hilary, were involved in an automobile accident near Memphis in 2006. The wreck left them both with serious injuries and nearly took Hilary’s life. It wasn’t until a year and a-half later that Williams could revisit that violent and tragic event, an experience she now calls a miracle.
“It was weird to think that something came out of it,” she said. “The only thing that I could really focus on was that it was an absolute miracle. My sister told me to put my seatbelt on about a mile before. The whole thing was just a miracle that she lived and went through everything she did. That’s the only song that I’ve ever written out of it.”
In the opening of the song, she admits she doesn’t pray enough or know why she lived that Wednesday morning, yet she is certain that Jesus was with her that day. She leans on a faith firmly rooted in the lyrics of a man she never knew — her grandfather. She sings, “The preacher tried to make me learn/I memorized his favorite verse/But Hank’s words, they taught me everything/Thank God, I saw the light for me.”
“I got as much spiritual teaching out of Hank Sr.’s lyrics as I did something I would have read about in church or growing up with the Bible,” she explains. “I think there’s a lot you can find in his lyrics even though it’s from a person that’s struggling. It’s still relatable because we’re all struggling.”
She has been told that her songwriting style is similar to the approach taken by her grandfather, who suffered from depression and substance abuse before dying at age 29.
“I definitely did not struggle with the demons that he did,” she said. “I think he really suffered from the kind of common singer-songwriter bouts of depression and just low, low points. We’ve all had our ups and downs.”
She also tackles the struggles of divorce through song. In “Mama,” she commends her mother for standing firm and strong during her divorce from Hank Williams Jr. and applauds her for handling the situation with such finesse.
“My dad was on tour 300 nights a year at the time,” she said. “We were little girls. She was raising us alone. To be a single mom and trying to have two kids and your husband on tour and dealing with all that stress is really amazing. She was always positive. She was always smiling.
“I think it probably saved me a lot of therapy because I had such a great mom” she said. “And Dad was great about it, too. It’s just my little thank you.”
But not all of Williams’ songs touch on such delicate issues. “Three Days in Bed” entertains the idea of spending three days in Paris and in bed with a complete stranger — making love, drinking wine and smoking menthol cigarettes. She throws all caution to the wind in her daydream, a song she thought best to record live.
“It’s so great for me to hear someone’s album, and you hear just them and the instrument,” she said. “Then you really get to see what they’re about.”
Here With Me gives Williams’ listeners just that — a peek into her life through song. She’s already generating radio airplay for her current single, “Keep the Change.” After establishing a devoted following with her first album, 2005’s Those We Never Knew, she hopes to attract even more listeners to her music.
“It’s kind of a new road for me” she said. “It will be interesting to see what people think — probably that I’m a little different than Dad, but hopefully they still like us both.”