Tuesday, September 29, 2009

CD Odyssey Disc 37: Lucinda Williams

We now return to non-random programming. I've bought a new album, and as per my new "Calvinball" rule, I am allowed to insert new albums ahead of the random distribution. And so I did.

Disc 37 is... Lucinda Williams (self-titled)

Artist: Lucinda Williams

Year of Release: 1988 (re-issue is 1998)

How I Came To Know It: I discovered Lucinda Williams through Steve Earle, but this particular album I discovered because of the movie TransAmerica. During the credits, I heard this song Like A Rose which was beautiful and totally reminded me of Lucinda Williams. But how could it be? Did I not have all of Lucinda's albums? Apparently not. This - her self-titled album from 1988 has been out of print since a special issue in 1998. I sought it for a couple years in record stores, without success, and finally broke down and spent $68 on Amazon. It feels like cheating to find a rare album on Amazon, but I did what I had to do to complete the collection.

How It Stacks Up: I have all 9 Lucinda Williams albums. I love her work. It is so consistently strong, that I think putting them in order 1-9 would be impossible, so I'll tier them. In a 3 tier structure, I'll say this album is top tier.

Rating: 5 stars for the original album, 4 stars with the extra 6 tracks on the special edition (3 are great, but 3 are just OK, and there is no call for 18 songs on one album, even Lucinda songs).

Lucinda Williams is a once in a generation type of talent. She sings in a style that is part blues, part country, and part folk. Her writing is second to none - and her voice has a ragged edge that tears your heart out. Yeah - I'm kind of a fan.

This particular album has exactly zero hits for her (like most of her albums). One of the songs Passionate Kisses was recorded and released by fellow folk/country singer Mary Chapin Carpenter and was a hit. I really like Carpenter's version, but it seems a crime that Lucinda got no credit (except from Carpenter, who is effusive in her praise of Williams' songwriting ability).

This album doesn't let up - it goes from one great track to the next.

It starts with a song I Just Wanted To See You So Bad - a late night booty-call song, and an early example of how downright sexy Lucinda Williams can be.

She gets into storyteller mode with the song The Night's Too Long, a song about a waitress named Sylvia who dreams of getting out of her nowhere town and going somewhere. Sylvia's story is a common one, and has no big bang ending. It is just a scene in an ordinary life, that Lucinda transforms into an extraordinary vision.

She sings of heartache with Abandoned, and then she sings of heartache and anger combined with Changed the Locks.

Other songs speak to her insecurities in relationships - like when she asks her lover Am I Too Blue - it is a song of self-loathing and love wrapped up in a big complicated knot, like those things can become on a bad day.

Lyrically, my favourite is Side of the Road. Here's the whole thing, since I couldn't pick one line:

"You wait in the car on the side of the road
Let me go and stand awhile
I wanna know you're there, but I wanna be alone
If only for a minute or two
I wanna see what if feels like to be without you
I wanna know the touch of my own skin
Against the sun, against the wind.

I walked out in a field, the grass was high
It brushed against my legs
I just stood and looked out at the open space
And a farm house out aways
And I wondered about the people who lived in it
And I wondered if they were happy and content
Were there children and a man and a wife
Did she love him and take her hair down at night

If I stray away too far from you
Don't go and try to find me
It doesn't mean I don't love you
It doesn't mean I won't come back
And stay beside you
It only means I need a little time
To follow that unbroken line
To a place where the wild things grow
To a place where I used to always go"

Lyrically, Lucinda shares very raw, personal pictures with us - it makes us transcend whatever we are doing and feel what the singer feels. That's art, in my mind. Moreover, it is done with simple language, and simple arrangement.

Her voice is scratchy, but never shrieky, and soulfull but never sullen. The bonus section has a couple of pure blues tracks that show if she wanted to, she could've had a career as a pure blues singer.

But Lucinda Williams transcends genre, no doubt hurting her commercial appeal in the process. In 50 years, I would wager people will be trying to find her music, not Carrie Underwood's. Here's hoping, anyway.

I would say buy this album, but you'd have to have a screwloose to pay almost seventy bucks for an album. I must have a couple loose - since having heard it I think I'd pay double.

Best tracks: All the main tracks (12) plus the live version of "Something About What Happens When We Talk" and "Sundays"

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