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Lucinda Williams

The object of cultish adoration for years, singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams was universally hailed as a major talent by both critics and fellow musicians, but it took quite some time for her to parlay that respect into a measure of attention from the general public. Part of the reason was her legendary perfectionism: Williams released records only infrequently, often taking years to hone both the material and the recordings thereof. Plus, her early catalog was issued on smaller labels that agreed to her insistence on creative control but didn't have the resources or staying power to fully promote her music. Yet her meticulous attention to detail and staunch adherence to her own vision were exactly what helped build her reputation. When Williams was at her best (and she often was), even her simplest songs were rich in literary detail, from her poetic imagery to her flawed, conflicted characters. Her singing voice, whose limitations she readily acknowledged, nonetheless developed into an evocative instrument that seemed entirely appropriate to her material. So if some critics described Williams as "the female Bob Dylan," they may have been oversimplifying things (Townes Van Zandt might be more apt), but the parallels were certainly too strong to ignore.

Williams was born in Lake Charles, LA, on January 26, 1953. Her father was Miller Williams, a literature professor and published poet who passed on not only his love of language, but also of Delta blues and Hank Williams. The family moved frequently, as Miller took teaching posts at colleges around Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas, and even Mexico City and Santiago, Chile. Meanwhile, Lucinda discovered folk music (especially Joan Baez) through her mother and was galvanized into trying her own hand at singing and writing songs after hearing Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. Immersed in a college environment, she was also exposed to '60s rock and more challenging singer/songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. She started performing folk songs publicly in New Orleans and during the family's sojourn in Mexico City. In 1969, she was ejected from high school for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and she spent a year working her way through a reading list supplied by her father before leaving home.

Williams performed around New Orleans as a folk artist who mixed covers with traditional-styled originals. In 1974, she relocated to Austin, TX, and became part of that city's burgeoning roots music scene; she later split time between Austin and Houston, and then moved to New York. A demo tape got her the chance to record for the Smithsonian's Folkways label, and she went to Jackson, MS, to lay down her first album at the Malaco studios. Ramblin' on My Mind (later retitled simply Ramblin') was released in 1979 and featured a selection of traditional blues, country, folk, and Cajun songs. Williams returned to Houston to record the follow-up, 1980's Happy Woman Blues. As her first album of original compositions, it was an important step forward, and although it was much more bound by the dictates of tradition than her genre-hopping later work, her talent was already in evidence.

However, it would be some time before that talent was fully realized. Williams flitted between Austin and Houston during the early '80s, then moved to Los Angeles in 1984, where she started to attract some major-label interest. CBS signed her to a development deal in the mid-'80s but wound up passing since neither its rock nor its country divisions knew how to market her; around the same time, a short-lived marriage to drummer Greg Sowders dissolved. Williams eventually caught on with an unlikely partner -- the British indie label Rough Trade, which was historically better known for its punk output. The simply titled Lucinda Williams was released in 1988, and although it didn't make any waves in the mainstream, it received glowing reviews from those who did hear it. With help from guitarist/co-producer Gurf Morlix, Williams' sound had evolved into a seamless blend of country, blues, folk, and rock; while it made perfect sense to roots music enthusiasts, it didn't fit into the rigid tastes of radio programmers. But it was clear that she had found her songwriting voice -- the album brimmed with confidence, and so did its assertive female characters, who seemed to answer only to their own passions.

Many critics hailed Lucinda Williams as a major statement by a major new talent. Rough Trade issued a couple of EPs that featured live performances and material from Lucinda Williams, and Patty Loveless covered "The Night's Too Long" for a Top 20 country hit. However, it would be four years before Williams completed her official follow-up. She signed with RCA for a time but left when she felt that the label was pressuring her to release material she didn't deem ready for public consumption. Instead, she went to the small Elektra-distributed label Chameleon, which finally released Sweet Old World in 1992. A folkier outing than Lucinda Williams, Sweet Old World was an unflinching meditation on death, loss, and regret. Even its upbeat moments were colored by songs like the title track and "Pineola," two stunning, heartbreaking accounts of a family friend's suicide (poet Frank Stanford, not, as many listeners assumed, Williams' own brother). Needless to say, the record won rave reviews once again, and Williams toured Australia with Rosanne Cash and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

On that tour, Carpenter decided to record "Passionate Kisses," the key track and statement of purpose from Lucinda Williams. It shot into the country Top Five in 1993 and won its writer a Grammy for Country Song of the Year. Other artists soon started mining Williams' back catalog for material: avowed fan Emmylou Harris recorded "Crescent City" on 1993's Cowgirl's Prayer and cut "Sweet Old World" for her 1995 alternative country landmark Wrecking Ball; plus, Tom Petty covered "Changed the Locks" for 1996's movie-related She's the One. As the buzz around Williams grew, so did anticipation for her next album. With Chameleon having gone under, she signed with Rick Rubin's American Recordings label and began sessions with Morlix again co-producing. Dissatisfied with the results, Williams' rigorous retouchings led to Morlix's departure from the project and her backing band. In 1995, she moved into Harris' neighborhood in Nashville and through Harris hired Steve Earle and his production partner Ray Kennedy. At first, she was so enamored with their work that she re-recorded the entire album from scratch. When it was finished, she decided that the results sounded too produced, and took the record to Los Angeles, where she enlisted Roy Bittan (onetime E Street Band keyboardist) to co-produce a series of overdub sessions that bordered on obsessive. During the long wait for the album, the media began to pay more attention to Williams; some of the coverage was fairly unflattering, painting her as a neurotic control freak, but she always countered that it was unfair to criticize the process if the results were worthwhile.

Rubin mixed the final tracks, but the album was further delayed when he entered into negotiations to sell the American label. Mercury stepped in to purchase the rights to the album, which was finally released in 1998 under the title Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Boasting a bright, contemporary roots rock sound with strong country and blues flavors, not to mention major-label promotional power, the album won universal acclaim, making many critics' year-end Top Ten lists and winning The Village Voice's prestigious Pazz & Jop survey. It also won Williams a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album (despite being the least folk-oriented record in her catalog) and became her first to go gold, proving to doubters that she was not just a songwriter, but a full-fledged recording artist in her own right. After a merger shakeup at Mercury, Williams wound up on the Universal-distributed roots imprint Lost Highway. She was the subject of an extensive, widely acclaimed profile in The New Yorker in 2000, written by Bill Buford, who was nominated for a National Magazine Award for his work; however, Williams and some of her supporters took issue with some of his more objective-minded analysis.

Williams delivered her next album, Essence, in 2001, after a relatively scant wait of just three years. An introspective collection, it often found Williams taking a simpler, more minimalistic lyrical approach and was greeted with rapturous reviews in most quarters. The track "Get Right with God" won Williams her third Grammy, this time for Best Female Rock Vocal, which further consolidated her credibility as a singer, not just a songwriter. Paring down the time between album releases even further, Williams returned in 2003 with World Without Tears, which became her highest-charting effort to date when it debuted in the Top 20. Two live recordings were released in 2005, one (Live @ the Fillmore) for Lost Highway and the other (Live from Austin, TX) for New West. West arrived in 2007, followed by Little Honey in 2008. Williams returned to the studio in 2010 with producer Don Was at the helm with help from Eric Liljestrand and husband/manager Tom Overby (the latter two co-produced Little Honey), with some of the same guests from the previous offering including Matthew Sweet and Elvis Costello, who sings and plays on almost half the record. (Costello and Williams had already worked together; she dueted with Costello on his 2004 album The Delivery Man.) Entitled Blessed, the album was released in early 2011 in two editions, as a standard CD and as a limited deluxe version with a bonus disc which included the working demos for the songs on Blessed, recorded in Williams' kitchen. In early 2014, Williams reissued her 1988 self-titled album with bonus material via funding from a Pledge Music campaign. If the crowdfunding campaign suggested Williams was moving away from the standard music business paradigm, she confirmed it by forming her own record label, Highway 20 Records, who released Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, an ambitious two-disc set that appeared in September 2014. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Are You Alright?

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Track List: Burning Bridges (Single)

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Track List: Buttercup (Radio Single)

Comments

Hank move it over
God I really love Lucinda...
Don't read this because it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest possible Friday by the love of your life. Tomorrow will be the best day of your life. However if you don't post this you will die in 2 days. Now you've started reading so don't stop. This is so scary put this on at least 5 songs in 143 minutes. When done press f6 and your lover's name will come on the screen in big letters. This is so scary because it actually works
One of the very best!
lsagitt
love her voice!
jdjmw
Happy B Day, Lucinda!
Gotta hear me some lucinda every day!
More Mississippi soul than she can control!! Across all genres, second ONLY to Joni Mitchell...
kgarry4
what a great talent!
claricentp91 7
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shawnnavuz71 1
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simply awesome!
garry693
The very best singer songwriter alive today. Seen her 6 times. Outdoors twice, Radio City, dive bars, never disappointed . Doug Pettibone is the finest guitar player I have ever heard. Thank you, Lu!
This record is perfection !!
GREAT ARTIST!

MARK
danzigirwin
Drunken Angel , for Blaze Foley , R.I.P. Touching song, tragic story. Lucinda nails another one. She's been of our best songwriters for the last 3 decades.
armsbyned
I cant find info on it anywhere but Im assuming that's Doug Pettibone playing solo guitar on the Live at Fillmore album. Anyone know for sure? He's the ballz and perfect compliment to Lucinda
her music saved my life in New Orleans in 2007. She is an angel.
bphumm
Such a beautiful and touching song. Her finest.
very complex vocal range and tonal quality
She's my girl!
Lucinda is as good as it gets.
@dinosbossma n ; Just keep Thumb Down(ing) her and that will be that. Me, I'm thumbing up! (She's perfect for my Neko Case-based station!)
I wish I could remove her from my playlist/sta t i o n !
bcase785
Hay Lucinda, Do you wan't to come home with me? Please !
bcase785
Hi Lucinda You have a voice like an angel.
bcase785
Lucinda, The angel with a golden voice. May you live long and prosper!!
loretta_padg e t t
Lucinda, you're the homie I been looking for.
skullythepir a t e
she keeps me awake on the road and has for years....i even named my tortoise shell kitty after her AND my Pandora station. long may she run!
Would love to chill out and smoke a bowl with Lucinda
Me wet me pants again!!!
sylvia31bern a l
omg she is my awakin in the mornin my drinkin buddy my modivation durin the day.. my ease every night ... i luv luci willi... not one song of hers that i can say she fkd up.. its her voice... baby..
she is astounding in many ways!
Totally amazing talent & clearly one of the very best we have in this genre. Her perfectionis m serves her well. A true, gutsy American gal and fine musician. 5 stars all the way!
Simply beautiful
To Hot to Touch!!!
Her voice is mesmerizing. . . s o soulful...lo v e her music and her sound.
She's yet another living example of the fact that real, creative genius must ferment before being consumed...a n d long may she Live and be consumed.
I know she's not perfect, but, damn I'd like to be a member of that club.
Dull and bland??? I resemble that remark, but not Lucinda Williams. Did like the comparison with Townes VZ, & think it appropriate. . . t h o u g h each has the privilege/ri g h t to be their own person, sans sometimes bizarre comp's. (Any critics hear that? Didn't think so.) Don't like every song, but she's far better than "good". Hope she avoids TVZ's stumbling blocks, etc. NO judgement, just heartfelt hope/prayers for Joy,Love,&Pe a c e shared for/by a special, gifted, hard working/crea t i v e genius!
webersf
Lucinda Greg Brown Iris Dement Steve Earle Dave van Ronk ,that great Peidmont blues country black folk singer who was a gravedigger, c a n ' t think of his name-these are among the greatest for sure ! and Dylan, too
Totally picking up what she's laying down. Phenomenal.
Dull and bland!
fenderbender 2 8 9
Gotta love her gritty "Three chords and the truth"
You gotta to listen to her. Sweeeeet!
cant wait to c her live at beacon in nyc with amos lee.my first love of all female americana artists.top notch!!!!!!! ! ! ! c o m e on!!!!!!!com e back!!!!!!i been at sea for last fifteen yrs. swordfishin n tuna longlining and this is my new love.gotta have good tunes always
I have seen her live 3 or 4 times and I adore her. She's better live than recorded. The very first time I saw her was when she opened for Neil Young in Camden, NJ and I wasn't even paying that much attention but within two stanzas I was hooked. I love everything about her and I would love to just hang out with her some night. She's amazing and under appreciated.
michael0985
I could listen to her voice all day
my favorite girl.
bluelynne
Her new album is being released on March 1st. She is one on my faves!!
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