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"She doesn't fit neatly into any of the established categories",
This review is from: Lucinda Williams (Audio CD)
My headline quote comes from Miller Williams, Lucinda's father and it's very apt. On the outside of the sleeve there are quotes from three distinguished ladies from the C&W world, rhapsodising about the quality of Lucinda's song writing - all three have recorded her songs. On the album itself we get a number of bonus tracks, several of which are interpretations of blues from the likes of Howling Wolf , Memphis Minnie and Lil' Son Jackson; others sound rather folky. Within the main body of the album our lady sings a number of songs, some of which could be very loosely interpreted as country, some more as folk, or at least, singer/songwriter, and there's one which is out and out rock. And then there's that voice.....
Does it matter? Do we really have to fit everyone into neat little boxes? What are the songs and performances like? That's a lot more interesting.
They're lighter than "Car Wheels on a gravel road" which, I guess is where many of us started. Younger of course; there were a lot of years in between. There's excitement, "the road was dark but the stars were bright, I just wanted to see you so bad", but resignation as well, "now it looks like all I got is time to kill", but the passion never goes, "it burns your skin, when you run into my arms again". And there's simple, unadorned joy when singing about Fats Domino's great city of New Orleans, "We used to dance the night away" and "I can hear my zydeco and laissez le bon temps roulez" - and the music reflects the words - there`s even a washboard in there. Most of the songs are medium tempo with some slower. Occasionally recognisable country lines appear which fit well with the lyrics - "these boots are the same ones I was wearing then". But the music is really country inflected rock coming right through in a line from Buddy Holly - just listen to "Big Red Sun Blues" - Waylon could be singing this and you`d love it just as much. The band is basic guitar - several varieties (all from Gurf Morlix), - bass and drums. Occasionally they're joined by a fiddle, accordion or mandolin but used sparingly. The fiddle appears to a great effect on "Like a Rose", a song for which Lucinda says she was aiming for a feel akin to the Velvet Underground's "I'll be your mirror" and "Sunday Morning". The most rocking number is "Changed the locks" which is not unlike some of the noisier records made by Alejandro Escovedo - it's worth noting that Lucinda does appear on the Escovedo tribute album "Por Vida". "Am I too blue" takes us back to country territory again with lyrics which cut right to the quick - mandolin and pedal steel and honky tonk piano emphasise the country feel but this isn't Nashville, it sounds too real, too blue even (without wishing to pun). "Price to Pay" is almost cornball country - the first waltz on the album - could imagine the Handsome family doing this - I absolutely love it - "With my heart, now there's a price you have to pay".
These songs aren't just good they're great. As a contrast, the original album finishes with one non-original, Howling Wolf's "I asked for Water, he gave me gasoline". Lucinda as the Wolf is quite something, falsetto howls included - great stuff. The bonus tracks carry on the blues theme with several tracks recorded from a radio broadcast with merely a second guitar for accompaniment - though for one song we also get Taj Mahal on harmonica. To say she knows these songs backwards is an understatement. Interspersed are four more of her originals. The simpler setting paints these more as folk songs, or the sort of performances you'd hear in a folk club, but they're not intrinsically different than the songs on the original album,; it's just the approach which is more intimate. The quality of the songs is still very evident.
Bonus tracks are often little more than padding and/or a deliberate temptation to get the completist to shell out again for an album that he/she already has. That's way, way from the case here. Some of these songs are as good as those on the main album - "I can't seem to make it through Sunday" is an example, how does she come up with lines like that? - and the homespun nature of the delivery adds extra charm.