It's difficult not to love Dar Williams.

Even though she's built a career as one of folk music's most engaging storytellers, she continually surprises her listeners with ever more thoughtful offerings. Consider her latest release, "In the Time of Gods." The songs on the album may have been inspired by Greek mythology, but they speak to the heart of every man. Neither the album nor her sets is anyone's idea of a preachy history lesson.

"A lot of people have said that just listening to the album, you wouldn't know that [its origin was in Greek mythology]," she said. "I'm glad because that's not everybody's thing. There's a schoolish feel about [Greek mythology], and I didn't want it to be that. I didn't set out to make a concept album."

Fair enough. But hardly surprising that such a master songwriter creates music that is the sonic equivalent of a prism. Indeed, those in the D.C. area will likely appreciate the depth of Williams' songs now more than ever. Williams' music entices listeners to consider contemporary struggles and unrest as part of a much broader picture.

Dar Williams and Loudon Wainwright III
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: The Birchmere Music Hall, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria
Info: $45; 703-549-7500;

She's pleased to note that not only adults but many of the younger members of her audiences respond with excitement to some of the connections drawn -- ever so subtly -- between ancient and modern struggles.

"I'm always a little worried about kids in their early teens first attending concerts," she said, noting many of those teens have recently studied ancient history and are fascinated with modern parallels to it. "The songs are for adults, but through the lens of stories with which kids are familiar. ... It's nice to see them sit up and really listen, even when we do a ballad."

Not that Williams' concerts are never without a hearty dose of merriment. As she tours with Loudon Wainwright III, whose 1973 novelty song "Dead Skunk" proves folk singers know how to have fun with their music -- the concerts take on a special tone when the two perform together at the end of the show.

"We have some complimentary themes, so the sets feel very connected," Williams said. "We have come out and done a few songs together, and they've been very well received. That will be a regular part of the show."

But as far as the actual songs? Well, you'll have to wait and see, said Williams with a laugh.

"We'll have to let that be a surprise."