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POP EYE

Singers Help Out an Unsung Songwriter

April 25, 1993|Steve Hochman

We've come to expect fund-raising tribute albums featuring a variety of acts spotlighting the music of such cultural icons as Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

But the latest such effort, with contributions from Pearl Jam, Lou Reed, Soul Asylum and the Waterboys, among others, salutes the music of a Los Angeles singer-songwriter who has never risen above cult status.

They've all recorded songs written by Victoria Williams for "Sweet Relief," a tribute to the singer who was stricken with multiple sclerosis last year--and Neil Young is expected to add a song too.

That list of names helps explain why Williams wants to talk more about her "blessings" than her troubles--though the fight to stem the disease has been very costly and the illness makes it difficult for her to perform.

"It's really sweet, isn't it?" she says in her Louisiana accent, familiar to L.A. club-goers for the past eight years or so. "I am sure very, very honored that they sang my songs. I'm so touched. There are tears night after night of happiness that people could be so beautiful."

Other artists on the project are Maria McKee, the Lemonheads, the Jayhawks, Michael Penn, Matthew Sweet, Michelle Shocked, Lucinda Williams, Buffalo Tom and Shudder to Think.

The album, due in June from Columbia Records, was initiated by Sony Music's Kelly Walker, who organized a New York benefit concert for Williams last fall, and Sylvia Reed, Lou's wife and manager.

They saw an opportunity both to give her songs wider exposure and to raise money to defray her medical costs--like many musicians, she has no health insurance. Williams will also use some of the funds to finance the Sweet Relief Musicians Trust, which provides help for other performers with medical needs.

Williams is a bit bemused that it took this illness to bring her music this kind of exposure. Her own two albums, 1987's "Happy Come Home" and 1990's "Swing the Statue," are both out of print, though she is negotiating a new record deal that might put them back in stores.

For now, Williams is keeping busy. Despite problems using her hands, she has been guesting on albums by Giant Sand and Joe Henry and was scheduled to perform at the Farm Aid concert in Ames, Iowa, this weekend.

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