It was a busy morning at the Dar Williams household when she picked up the phone to do an interview.
As Williams fielded questions about her current tour and her latest CD, "Promised Land," she was also dealing with the needs of her four-year-old son, Stephen, and a shifting schedule that had seen several phone interviews in rapid back-to-back succession.
"Sorry, I'm multi-tasking," Williams said, as she tried to answer an interview question, tend to her son (who wanted to show his mother a pepper he had found, presumably from the household garden) and deal with an incoming call for another interview.
Life as a mother/wife/musician means juggling the demands of home and family with the demands of promoting a tour and new CD comes with an understandable element of chaos, But it seems clear that when it comes to the music itself, Williams continues to have things under control.
"Promised Land," Williams' seventh studio album, is yet another in an unbroken string of solid efforts that showcases her immediately appealing folk-pop sound and sharply drawn lyrics.
But if the music on "Promised Land" fits neatly alongside the rest of Williams' album catalog, her approach to making the album had a few notable departures.
After working with producer Stewart Lerman on her previous two albums -- "The Beauty Of The Rain" and "My Better Self" -- she chose to work Brad Wood, a producer with a rock, not folk, background and a notably different group of musicians.
Wood, in fact, has praised Williams for her willingness to step outside of her comfort zone in recording "Promised Land."
It's a compliment Williams happily accepts, but not without downplaying any artistic courage she showed in doing the album.
"I chose him because he fit my comfort zone. I'm pleased that he thought I was being so brave," Williams said. "And it's good for people to believe that I'm being brave. So by all means, present me as a brave person."
In reality, Williams said, Wood (whose credits include Pete Yorn, Liz Phair and the Smashing Pumpkins) did bring a rock aesthetic to certain aspects of "Promised Land." In particular, Wood brought in a drummer, Travis McNabb of Better Than Ezra, who has a rock background. But Williams said Wood also understood the importance of keeping her voice at the center of the songs.
"He's not afraid to really push a rock thing," Williams said of Wood. "But at the end of the day, everyone is hitting hard, but my lyrics and my voice and the nuance in my voice -- because women's voices just get more interesting as they get older [because] there's more history in them -- he was there to catch that. So if I was having a good day vocally, that really showed up in the final product. That's what I wanted. So that for me was true comfort.
"The fact that he threw a lot of things in my direction and I was receptive, I think, probably impressed him and made him really feel like I was taking on some challenges," she said. "But really, I grew up with such a great palette of sounds, it all sounds good to me. It might be lack of discernment, too, on my part."
The fact that Williams wanted a producer who would bring new ideas and input to the project is a sign of how her approach to record making has evolved over the past half dozen years.
After making her 2000 CD, "The Green World," Williams realized that she had been too controlling in the studio and was doing too much to orchestrate and guide the recording process.
For her next CD, 2003's "The Beauty Of The Rain," she stepped back somewhat during the project, and gave co-producers Lerman and Rob Hyman more of a voice in the proceedings and also encouraged the musicians on that album to bring more of their personalities and styles to their playing.
Williams continued to practice that approach on the 2005 CD, "My Better Self" (also produced by Lerman), but feels she was even more open-minded in making "Promised Land."
"This was a fulfillment of that understanding that I got from working with all of these great musicians, that actually I need to step back," she said. "Unless you really want to go in there with a dot-to-dot blueprint where there's no freedom and there's just execution, it's actually much better for an album spiritually to let people kind of go into how they feel the music as well as how they execute it. So yeah, I absolutely let them (Wood and the musicians) in on songs and I absolutely applied that this time, even when it was feeling a little counter-intuitive."
But if Williams continued to allow her collaborators to step further into the album-making process, she did so without diluting her own identity, which itself has been evolving throughout the current decade.
After starting her career in a decidedly folk-ish setting on the 1994 album "The Honesty Room" and 1996's "Mortal City," Williams began to shift toward a broader sonic palette on "The Green World" that emphasized fuller arrangements and more of a pop dimension.
"Promised Land" fits comfortably alongside her most recent albums. A few songs have a stronger rock edge, including the brisk album-opening "It's Alright" and "Go to the Woods." And while the rhythm tracks are a bit more assertive on other songs like "The Easy Way" and "Buzzer," these tunes still strike an appealing balance between pop and folk as Williams showcases her familiar ability to craft graceful melodies. There are also quieter songs, such as "You Are Everyone" and "Holly Tree" that connect "Promised Land" directly back to Williams' folkier roots.
"Actually, somebody said that they thought it sounded more like an older album of mine, and [that person] mentioned it as a compliment," Williams said. "And I was thrilled because I know there are people who want that But yeah, I didn't think it sounded terribly different."
What will sound different is Williams' live sound as she tours to promote "Promised Land."
Having toured in recent years with a full band and in a solo acoustic format, Williams has been performing in a trio format with keyboardist Bryn Roberts and percussionist Everett Bradley. The format, she said, lends itself to a wide variety of sonic settings.
"I've been hearing my friends playing with these incredible trios," Williams said. "It's a little more theatrical than a band because it's a little bit more unusual. There's a lot of power, there's all the rhythm of a band, but there's also a lyrical focus [of solo]. So that does encompass the sort of both ends of the spectrum of folk and rock."
And while Williams noted that some of her songs will need fresh treatments live, she said the production on "Promised Land" also suited the trio format.
"There was something sort of stripped down about the production on this [album]," she said. "As much as it was done by a rock guy Wood], there was something very stripped down and clean about this sound. I kind of took that as a cue for going with the trio."
THE DETAILS: DAR WILLIAMS
Dar Williams, 7 p.m. Aug. 4, Candlelight Concert Series, Foy Hall, Moravian College, Main and Church streets, Bethlehem. Tickets: $35. 610-332-FEST, www.fest.orgCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times