Joy Williams’ Spirited Dinner Party Soundtrack

The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter scores your next gathering, from cocktails to the last flicker of a candle.

Photo courtesy of Columbia Records

Singer-songwriter Joy Williams won four Grammy Awards as half of the indie folk duo The Civil Wars, which she founded in 2008 with John Paul White after the two met at a writing camp in Nashville. Known for hits like “Poison & Wine” and “Dust to Dust,” she and White permanently parted ways in 2014.

After collaborating with artists like Chris Cornell, Hayley Williams of Paramore, and Matt Berninger from the National, Williams is set to release her latest solo album, “Venus,” on June 29. Here she is with a playlist for the kind of dinner party that features comfort food and air-keyboarding. (In other words, an awesome one.)


Joy Williams: Hey. My name is Joy Williams, and here is my dinner party soundtrack.

Al Bowlly – “Guilty”

It’s fun to be asked to create a playlist, because this is what I do on a really regular basis. My friends back in Nashville, we have a dinner party called “The Night Circus,” and we get together and swap food and music. And music, much like food, is better when shared.

So, the first song that normally gets started during appetizers is “Guilty” by Al Bowlly.

[Sings along with the song] “If it’s a crime, then I’m guilty / Guilty of loving you.” [Laughs.] He was from Mozambique, and ended up becoming really famous in England, and then over in the States for being a jazz crooner and band leader in the 1930s.

Al has this way of crooning — this high tenor that lilts and floats.  And he always sang with so much freedom and joy.  It blends in well, you can mingle and talk, it doesn’t interrupt you while you’re having a conversation with a friend. And for whatever reason, it’s a very warm and welcoming sound, hearing music that could’ve been played on a very, very old record player. On a gramophone, even.


Gary Newman – “Cars”

This is like the biggest jump that could happen, but if you come to “The Night Circus” dinner, we start in the 1930s, but we almost always wind up in the 1980s.

“Cars” by Gary Newman is a famous favorite of “The Night Circus” and there are normally people out of their chairs, either air-drumming or air-keyboarding. ‘Cause  life is too short to take yourself too seriously.

Rack of lamb, we make a lot. We do a lot of filet mignon. I think, for me, having comfort food is much like listening to something from the ’80s that you’ve heard a hundred times before — it can be a comfort too.

The Acid – “Animal”

So, the third track is by a band from Berlin called The Acid. And they have a song called “Animal.”

What I love about “Animal” is that there is so much sparseness to it. There will be, like, a beautiful hit on a drum that is just so perfectly timed. And these almost ghost-like vocals that are happening.  It’s almost what’s not there.  Like in art, you know?  The negative space gives you the space to feel whatever it is that you need to feel.

There’s something about kind of getting a little bit quieter again — lingering and not rushing anything. It’s almost like what happens at the end of our dinners, where we’re there so long that the candles start dripping wax on the tablecloths.

Joy Williams – “Woman (Oh Mama)”

I couldn’t say that I would press play on a song of mine during the dinner party.  But maybe my song “Woman (Oh Mama)” can be that song that makes its way into your post-dessert dance party.

I wrote it in Venice Beach, where there’re drum circles that just happen for hours. I think maybe that sort of subconsciously seeped into my writing process that day — wanting to make something that felt like it can move your body.