Williams begann ihre Karriere 1978. Zwanzig Jahre brauchte sie bis zu ihrem Durchbruch mit Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Eine Zeit, in der ihre Plattenfirmen nicht wussten, wohin mit ihr. Das nach ihr benannte Album "Lucinda Williams", mit Klassikern wie "Changed the Locks", erschien in den 1980ern beim britischen Punk-Label Rough-Trade.
In den USA triumphierten andere mit ihren Songs: Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty... Allen voran Mary Chapin Carpenter, die 1993 mit einer Version der forschen Country-Hymne "Passionate Kisses” einen Riesenhit landete, der Song gewann einen Grammy. Williams jobbte zu dieser Zeit in einem Buchladen, um die Miete zu bezahlen. Erst zum Ende der 1990er, als die Scheuklappen zwischen den Genres fielen, fand sie das größere Publikum.
Lucinda Williams als den "weiblichen Bob Dylan" zu bezeichnen, klingt pathetisch und platt. Aber wie so oft: Es bleibt hängen, ist auch nicht falsch – mit Dylans "Highway 61 Revisited"-Album lernte sie Gitarre spielen. Scheinbar ermutigt, könnte man dann auch sagen, sie sei der "weibliche Townes Van Zandt, Hank Williams oder gar Keith Richards".
In 36 Karrierejahren veröffentlichte sie nicht mehr als zwölf Studioalben und wurde für 15 Grammys nominiert (von denen sie drei gewann). "Time Magazine" erklärte sie zu Amerikas bestem Songwriter. Seit Car Wheels on a Gravel Road ist jedes ihrer Alben im englischsprachigen Raum (plus Schweden) in die Charts gekommen. In ihrer Wahlheimat Nashville bereits eine Legende, ist Lucinda Williams in Deutschland dafür immer noch ein Insidertipp, mal abgesehen von ihrem Song "Still I Long for Your Kiss" auf dem Soundtrack von Der Pferdeflüsterer.
Williams wuchs in Lake Charles, Louisiana auf. In den 1950er Jahren war das eine Gegend hinter dem Mond, voller Countryboys, Hicks und Rednecks. Ihr Vater, der renommierte Dichter und Autor Miller Williams, versteckte auf seinen Lesungen seinen Akzent. Country-Stars wie Hunter Hayes, Tim McGraw und Trace Adkins haben Louisiana ein cooles Image gegeben, aber erst seit den 1990ern. 1969, als Lucinda in der zehnten Klasse war, flog sie von der Schule, weil sie sich weigerte, den Fahneneid abzuleisten, und von da an übernahm ihr Vater die weitere Ausbildung. Er gab ihr eine Literaturliste, die mit dem Iliad begann und mit 100 Jahre Einsamkeit endete. Danach zog Williams nach New Orleans, dann Austin und landete in Houston, das in den frühen 1970ern der Hotspot einer jungen Folkszene war.
1977 kommt sie zurück nach Fayettville, mit einer Stimme, die vom Singen in verrauchten Clubs rau wie Sandpapier geworden ist und mit einem Notizbuch voller Songs. Ihre Liebe, Freundschaft, Affäre mit dem Southern-Gothic-Poeten Frank Stanford, der sich 1978 erschießt, krempelt sie für immer um. Sie schreibt ihm "Pineola", einen ihrer Signature-Songs, den sie erst 1992 auf dem Album "Sweet Old World" veröffentlicht. Komm, süßer Tod! "Drunken Angel" auf Car Wheels on a Gravel Road ist ein Nachruf an den Austiner Musikerkollegen Blaze Foley, der bei einer Messerstecherei starb ("Blood spilled out from the hole in your heart, over the strings of your guitar, the worn-down places in the wood, that once made you feel so good”). "Little Angel, Little Brother" widmet sie einem Freund der Familie, der sich umbrachte.
Lucinda Williams berührt ihre Fans tiefer, emotionaler, abgedrehter als jede andere Sängerin und Songschreiberin, denn sie singt autobiographisch. Sie hat ihre Songs erlebt und gelebt. Eines ist ganz klar: diese Frau lässt sich von nichts unterkriegen. Courtney Love sähe mit 61 bestimmt gern aus wie sie.
Lucinda Williams has made a career of writing terrific unrequited love songs, shattered ballads, and sexually liberated tomes drenched in blues, country, folk and rock. Since her breakthrough on 1998's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, she's actually recorded quite regularly; Little Honey is her fourth studio album this decade so far and fifth overall -- in the '90s she released a total of two. Williams throws some more change-ups into the mix this time. For starters, this is the most polished and studied record she's ever made. Produced by Eric Liljestrand and Tom Overby, its sound is utterly contemporary, though its forms are rooted in electric '70s rock as well as her fallbacks on blues and old-school Americana. The set opens with the rollicking "Real Love," with jangling, charging guitars by Doug Pettibone, and Rob Burger on Wurlitzer, and a backing chorus held down by the Bangles' Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet. Its pop/rock bent is tempered by the roiling pace and Williams trademark Louisiana voice. But it's a startling introduction to an album that, while produced with a certain conscious flair, is the most loosely focused of her career in terms of her songwriting. Williams can still write the beautiful cut-time country tunes, such as the ballad "Circles and X's" and the honky tonk "Jailhouse Tears," a fun throwaway duet with Elvis Costello, and a backing chorus that includes Jim Lauderdale. The blues make their appearance on the beautiful "Tears of Joy" and the appropriately titled "Heaven Blues," a song that references her late mother and redemption, with excellent slide work by Pettibone. Greasy, punched up guitar rock is what fuels the sexually charged "Honey Bee," and a cover of AC/DC's "Long Way to the Top" (though her arrangement on the latter doesn't work). There's also the beautiful, but lyrically indulgent, "Little Rock Star" a warning to the unnamed talents who live in the self-made hell of excess. Williams should know. The album's longest cut is "Rarity," a poignantly gorgeous, heartfelt, cough-syrup tribute to an unnamed but very talented peer. It features Hoffs and Sweet, and a lovely gospel horn arrangement by Bruce Fowler. Its languid, lazy pace is atmospheric and draws itself out over eight minutes making for one of the most memorable moments here. Quoting Williams' lyrics out of context doesn't serve for this record, because they are more directly song lyrics than the poetry she's crafted in song form before. Upon first listen Little Honey is quite jarring for all of its textural and production shifts and dodges, but in time it settles into the listener as a mixed collection of decent songs that pack some punch, but no jaw-dropping wallops. The faithful will no doubt enjoy this set, but the novice should look to earlier albums to discover what all the critical fuss has been about these last 25 years.
Words: Thom Jurek
The title of West reflects the change in Lucinda Williams' life as she moved to Los Angeles. It also reflects what had been left behind. Williams is nothing if not a purely confessional songwriter. She continually walks in the shadowlands to bring out what is both most personal yet universal in her work, to communicate to listeners directly and without compromise. If Essence and World Without Tears took chances and stated different sides of the songwriter and her world, West jumps off the ledge into the sky of freedom, where anything can be said without worry of consequence and where anything can be said in any way she wishes. It's entirely appropriate that West was released on the day before Valentine's Day 2007, for it's a record about the heart, about its volumes of brokenness, about its acceptance of its state, and how, with the scars still visible to the bearer, it opens wider and becomes the font of love itself. But the journey is a dark one. First there's the music and the production. Williams chose Hal Willner to produce West. Williams, who'd been writing a lot, demoed some songs before she brought in Willner. He stripped down the demos but kept the scratch vocals. From there, the pair created the rest of the album together, never re-recording Williams' initial vocals. The vocals were accompanied by her guitar playing; Willner wanted her inherent phrasing and rhythmic flow. Willner also brought his own crew to play with Williams. This collaboration -- as unlikely as it might seem on the surface -- results in something utterly different and yet unmistakably Lucinda Williams. West is a warm, inviting, yet very dark record about grief, the loss of love, anger at a lover who cannot deliver, and embracing the possibility of change. In other words, it's not without its redemptive moments. Williams has put all of her qualities on display at once with an unbridled and unbowed sense of adventure here on her eighth album. She, her bandmates, and Willner have come up with exactly what pop music needs: a real work of art based in contemporary forms and feelings. West is an album that will no doubt attract more than a few new fans, and will give old ones, if they are open enough, a recording to relish.
Words: Thom Jurek
It isn't surprising that Lucinda Williams' level of craft takes time to assemble, but the six-year wait between Sweet Old World and its 1998 follow-up, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, still raised eyebrows. The delay stemmed both from label difficulties and Williams' meticulous perfectionism, the latter reportedly over a too-produced sound and her own vocals. Listening to the record, one can understand why both might have concerned Williams. Car Wheels is far and away her most produced album to date, which is something of a mixed blessing. Its surfaces are clean and contemporary, with something in the timbres of the instruments (especially the drums) sounding extremely typical of a late-'90s major-label roots-rock album. While that might subtly alter the timeless qualities of Williams' writing, there's also no denying that her sound is punchier and livelier. The production also throws Williams' idiosyncratic voice into sharp relief, to the point where it's noticeably separate from the band. As a result, every inflection and slight tonal alteration is captured, and it would hardly be surprising if Williams did obsess over those small details. But whether or not you miss the earthiness of Car Wheels' predecessors, it's ultimately the material that matters, and Williams' songwriting is as captivating as ever. Intentionally or not, the album's common thread seems to be its strongly grounded sense of place -- specifically, the Deep South, conveyed through images and numerous references to specific towns. Many songs are set, in some way, in the middle or aftermath of not-quite-resolved love affairs, as Williams meditates on the complexities of human passion. Even her simplest songs have more going on under the surface than their poetic structures might indicate. In the end, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road is Williams' third straight winner; although she might not be the most prolific songwriter of the '90s, she's certainly one of the most brilliant.
Words: Steve Huey
Lucinda Williams has earned a reputation for her meticulous approach to making albums, but a careful listen to her work suggests that she isn't trying to make her music sound perfect, she just wants it to sound right, and she isn't afraid to spend the extra time waiting for the charmed moment to get caught on tape. This attitude seems to be borne out in her first-ever concert album, Live @ The Fillmore, which manages to sound carefully considered, and a model of "warts and all" authenticity at the same time. Recorded during a three-night stand in San Francisco, the album captures Williams' band in superb form -- Doug Pettibone's guitars, Taras Prodaniuk's bass, and Jim Christie's drums merge into a tight and emphatic groove machine that can match Williams's many moods, whether she's quietly contemplative on "Blue," rocking out hard on "Changed the Locks," or howling the blues on "Essence," while the deeply resonant recording and mix gives them the royal treatment. Williams herself is a slightly more complicated matter here -- her performance is deeply into the spirit, so much so that sometimes her melismatic wanderings and broad phrasing sound like they're verging on caricature. But this is clearly a recording of a performance, and by the time we get to the end of disc two, the broad strokes have coalesced into something quite remarkable; as Williams searches through the nooks and crannies of her songs, you sense she's discovering things that she didn't expect to find, and it's a tremendous thing to hear. Lucinda Williams is an artist who writes from her soul, and she's thoroughly unafraid of letting her passion show when she sings. If that makes for strained technique, it also results in very real art, and this album offers a privileged glimpse of a singular songwriter in full flight.
Words: Mark Deming
While many considered Car Wheels on a Gravel Road and Essence as definitive statements of arrival for Lucinda Williams as a pop star, she "arrived" creatively with her self-titled album in 1988 and opened up a further world of possibilities with Sweet Old World. The latter two records merely cemented a reputation that was well-deserved from the outset, though they admittedly confused some of her earliest fans. World Without Tears is the most immediate, unpolished album she's done since Sweet Old World. In addition, it is simply the bravest, most emotionally wrenching record she's ever issued. It offers unflinching honesty regarding the paradoxes inherent in love as both a necessary force for fulfillment and a destructive one when embraced unconsciously. Fans of her more polished, emotionally yearning material may have a hard time here because there isn't one track -- of 13 -- that isn't right from the gut, ripped open, bleeding, and stripped of metaphors and literary allusions; they're all cut with the fineness of a stiletto slicing through white bone into the heart's blood. World Without Tears is, among other things, predominantly about co-dependent, screwed-up love. It's about relationships that begin seemingly innocently and well-intentioned and become overwhelmingly powerful emotionally and transcendent sexually, until the moment where a fissure happens, baggage gets dumped in the space between lovers, and they turn in on themselves, becoming twisted and destructive -- where souls get scorched and bodies feel the addictive, obsessive need to be touched by a now absent other. The whole experience burns to ashes; it becomes a series of tattoos disguised as scars. The experience is lived through with shattering pain and bewilderment until wrinkled wisdom emerges on the other side. Most of Williams' albums have one song that deals with this theme, but with the exception of a couple of songs, here they all do.
Musically, this is the hardest-rocking record she's ever released, though almost half the songs are ballads. Her road band -- on record with her for the first time -- cut this one live from the studio floor adding keyboards and assorted sonic textures later. The energy here just crackles. Sure, there's gorgeous country and folk music here. "Ventura," with its lilting verse and lap steel whining in the background, is a paean to be swallowed up in the ocean of love's embrace. In fact, it's downright prosaic until she gets to the last verse: "Stand in the shower to clean this dirty mess/Give me back my power and drown this unholiness/Lean over the toilet bowl and throw up my confession/Cleanse my soul of this hidden obsession." The melodic frame is still moving, but the tune reverses itself: It's no longer a broken-hearted ballad, but a statement of purpose and survival. "Fruits of My Labor" is a straight-ahead country song. Williams shimmers with her lyric, her want pouring from her mouth like raw dripping honey. Her words are a poetry of want: "I traced your scent through the gloom/Till I found these purple flowers/I was spent, I was soon smelling you for hours...I've been trying to enjoy all the fruits of my labor/I've been cryin' for you boy, but truth is my savior." One can hear the grain of Loretta Lynn's voice, with an intent so pure and unadorned. But the muck and mire of "Righteously," with its open six-string squall, is pure rock. It's an exhortation to a lover that he need not prove his manhood by being aloof, but to "be the man you ought to tenderly/Stand up for me." Doug Pettibone's overdriven, crunching guitar solo quotes both Duane Allman and Jimi Hendrix near the end of the tune. "Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings" is a Rolling Stones-style country-rocker with a lyric so poignant it need not be quoted here. "Over Time," a tome about getting through the heartbreak of a ruined relationship, could have been produced by Daniel Lanois with its warm guitar tremolo and sweet, pure, haunting vocal in front of the mix.
"Those Three Days" may be the most devastating song on the record, with its whimpering lap steel and Williams' half-spoken vocal that questions whether a torrid three-day affair was a lie, a symbolic sacrifice, or the real thing. The protagonist's vulnerability is radical; she feels used, abused -- "Did you only want me for those three days/Did you only need me for those three days/Did you love me forever just for those three days." Yet she holds out hope that there is some other explanation as the questions begin to ask themselves from the depth of a scorched heart and a body touched by something so powerful it feels as if it no longer owns itself. Pettibone's solo screams and rings in the bridge to underline every syllable and emotion. "Atonement" is something else altogether; it's a punkish kind of blues. If the White Stripes jammed with 20 Miles in a big studio it might sound like this, with Williams singing from the depths of a tunnel for a supreme megaphone effect. She growls and shouts and spits her lyrics from the center of the mix. And Taras Prodaniuk's fuzzed-out basement-level gutter bass is the dirtiest, raunchiest thing on record since early Black Sabbath. "Sweet Side" is almost a poem in song, attempts to inspire someone who's been broken by life to accept his goodness. It is not a rap song despite what's been written about it so far. It's more in the tradition of Bob Dylan's early talking blues, but with a modern organic rhythm played by Jim Christie instead of drum loops. In addition, there is the gorgeously tough "People Talking," the most straight-ahead country song Williams has written since "Still I Long for Your Kiss" (from the Horse Whisperer soundtrack, not the version that appears on Car Wheels, which is dull and lifeless by comparison). Here again, Pettibone's guitar and the slippery, skittering shuffle of Christie's drumming carry Williams' voice to a place where she can sing her protagonist's personal, soul-searing truth without restraint.
World Without Tears is a work of art in the Henry James sense; it is "that which can never be repeated." It is as fine an album as she could make at this point in her life -- which is saying plenty. While she has never strayed from her own vision and has made few compromises, this album risks everything she's built up to now. The audience she's won over time -- especially with her last two records -- may find it over the top, which would be too damn bad; it'd be their loss. Hopefully, history will prove that World Without Tears sets a new watermark for Williams, and is an album so thoroughly ahead of its time in the way it embraces, and even flaunts, love's contradictions and paradoxes -- the same way the human heart does.
Words: Thom Jurek
Between her well-documented determination to retail full control of her music and the plain-spoken willfulness of her best-known songs, Lucinda Williams is practically the working definition of a strong woman you do not want to mess with, but she reveals a very different side of her musical personality on her sixth album, Essence. Subtle and often stark, Essence is an unusually quiet and frequently downbeat set that depicts a fragile emotional vulnerability which rarely makes its presence felt in Williams' music; there's an unadorned longing in songs like "Blue" and "Lonely Girls" that's new and deeply affecting, and the leaf-in-the-breeze quaver of Williams' voice on "I Envy the Wind" is as heart-rending as anything she's ever committed to tape. But while a blue mood dominates Essence, this isn't an album about the blue funk of heartbreak, but a chronicle of the search for transcendence over sorrow in our lives, as her characters look for a path out of isolation ("Out of Touch"), try to find answers through faith ("Get Right With God"), or reconcile love with the desires of the flesh ("Essence"). As a songwriter, Williams has long shown a knack for charting the human heart and mind with intelligence and economy, and Essence finds her at the peak of her form; the delicacy of this music does not speak of weakness, but of the passion and bravery it takes to bare one's soul. And while Williams has gained a certain infamy for her obsessive perfectionism in the studio, the quality of her work speaks for the wisdom of her decision-making process, and Essence proves how well she understands the art of recording; producing in collaboration with Charlie Sexton (Tom Tucker and Bo Ramsey also contributed), Essence sounds full and rich even in its quietest moments, and her sweet-and-sour voice blends with the arrangements with subtle perfection. Those hoping for another dose of the bluesy roots rock of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road may be disappointed, but if you want to take a deep and compelling look into the heart and soul of a major artist, then you owe it to yourself to hear Essence.
Words: Mark Deming