The saddest happy (or happiest sad) song in the world

My wife and I had just gotten on board the Norwegian Pearl a couple of years ago and were sitting in a lounge area when Holly Williams flopped down in a seat next to us. We didn’t know who she was, although she put out a strong musician vibe, and we missed her during the weeklong Cayamo festival at sea that followed.

When I discovered her identity later on, I didn’t really think anything of that earlier experience. I had heard a couple of her past cuts and thought they were OK but not particularly special, even though she was Hank Williams’ granddaughter. I missed all of her shows during the cruse — there were more than 40 acts performing multiple shows at the festival, and seeing everyone was impossible. Still, I heard a lot of buzz about her, especially that her recorded work didn’t represent her very well and that her new stuff was really good.

Earlier this year, I purchased the album of that new stuff: “The Highway,” which is one of my very favorite albums of this year. Among that album’s many high points is “Waiting on June,” which critic Ann Powers named as her favorite song of 2013. “I can’t not cry when I hear this,” Powers wrote, and I, too, “catch a cold” almost every time I play it.

My favorite song this year is probably Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up,” but this one is close behind, even though my cynical side finds the last couple of verses a bit too manipulative. I’ll see both Isbell and Williams together next month at a 9:30 Club show, and when she shows up again on Cayamo in February, I won’t make the mistake I made two years ago.


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