Hayward Williams grew up with a guitar in his hands, performing from an early age in cafés, bars, and eventually rock clubs throughout his home state of Wisconsin and around the Midwest. A high school ‘Battle of the Bands’ champion, the textbook lonely college kid making dinner dates with his guitar, Williams took the well-worn suburban route to musical accomplishment: he hit the ground running with a ’64 Gibson that his mother bought at a garage sale, listened hard to everything from the Beatles to Buckley, and somewhere along the way began to write the tunes that would become his own voice.
“Given the plethora of American singer-songwriters, to stand out they have to be something special. Wisconsin native Hayward Williams fits the bill to judge by this sparse, concentrated slice of thoughtful, folky Americana. Recorded “on the crest of the coldest winter in recent memory”, the music has a huddled-down, blanketed warmth in which you can almost hear the sparks of the fire as Dan McMahon’s electric guitar picks out notes against an acoustic guitar backdrop in the evocative title track and Mockingbird. There are splashes of violin, viola, mandolin and pedal steel, and hushed, tuneful voices to flesh out Williams’s rich, resigned tone. The eight songs (plus an unnamed extra), with themes of recollection and reflection wrapped in simple, timeless melodies, are most impressive.”
Cotton Bell Continental Song City **** (4 stars)
“Williams’ debut “Another Sailor’s Dream” got a 9/10 review on Americana UK back in 2007. Four years in the making this follow up ranks almost as high as he delivers a fine set of soulful, introspective songs with his deep baritone trickling like honey throughout.
The album was recorded in a cold, cold winter in Milwaukee and there is a sense of huddling around a fire listening to late night songs and tales. Backed by Dan McMahon and Shauncey Ali who provide all sorts of strings and things the sound is lush with lashings of strummed acoustics sweetened with tasty pedal steel, violin and dobro. All that’s missing is the crackling of a good wood fire.
At times the overall sound is reminiscent of John Martyn’s ambient recordings, no more so than on the opening, title, song which is a beautiful and hypnotic slink that has a swamplike, Southern feel around it. ‘New Years Eve’ is another standout evoking wintery nights with stark, keening steel guitar cutting through the frost. The final song, ‘Great Plains’ is another wintery tale which starts off with solo guitar and voice building up to a tremendous climax with female backing vocals and the band showcasing their skills. A hidden track at the end with Williams’ guitar and voice only serves to recall the Martyn comparison, gruff and sensitive at the same time with some fine guitar playing, a great way to end the album.”
Americana-UK 8 out of 10
“Looking at the bespectacled youth peering out from the album bio, you would never expect the smoky authoritative voice that swells from Cotton Bell. But maybe Williams’ appearance belies his age, this being the Milwaukee singer-songwriter’s third full length album. Williams’ is the voice of maturity and restraint, and by voice I mean not only his deep, resonant singing, but his approach, attitude, songwriting – the whole deal. Full of gentle, tender songs beautifully recorded, Cotton Bell presents nothing groundbreaking or startling. But the deeper you listen, the further you appreciate those sounds and songs. Dan McMahon’s guitar and pedal steel and dobro are consistently grace full and as a co-producer, he’s clearly a crucial ingredient to the impact of Cotton Bell. Strings and harmonies flesh out the songs beautifully throughout – Third track in ‘Mockingbird’ is a great example,just gorgeous to listen to, a breathtaking guitar solo, strings and harmonies swelling and subsiding, and Williams’ vocal melody glowing throughout.”
Rhythms Magazine. (Australia)