Rock & Roll Rewind: Lucinda Williams
c d kaplan is a rock n roll lifer. He’s got stories. Lots of stories. Here’s another.
At her most brilliant, Lucinda Williams fashions truly evocative imagery from
the most simple of lyrics.
None more concise than she sang with her most forlorn voice in the first song
on her album “Essence.”
Lonely girls/ Lonely girls/ Lonely girls/Heavy blankets/ Heavy blankets/ Heavy
blankets/ Cover lonely girls
Was it a break up? A lamented one night stand? The passing of someone close?
It’s of no matter. We get what she is writing about, and it resonates because
we’ve all been there.
She crafts basic desire “I just want to see you so bad,” an ode to the sweet
ache of longing. Her songs are full with marvelous turns of phrase and pinpoint
observations, “I see you there at the piano/ Your back a slow curve/ Playing
Ray Charles and Fats Domino/ While I sang all the words.”
Then there’s that indelible orgasmic moan in the opening verse of “Right In Time.”
Lucinda’s been at it for a half century. Now, post-stroke, 70 years on, she’s
getting more praise than ever upon the publication of her autobiography,
“Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You,” and her rightfully acclaimed
new album, “Stories From A Rock N Roll Heart.”
She’s played Louisville any number of times through the decades.
My first experience was when she opened for Joe Ely at Jim Porter’s
Tavern. It was the early 80s, she played solo and lamented that guitar
player, Gurf Morlix, wasn’t along. Her attire and manner were unassuming.
Such that then and on, she’s never been shy about having her lyrics in
front of the mic, either on a music stand or the floor.
Then that voice. Oh that voice. The southern twang, the undercurrent
of melancholy yet oft defiant. I was smitten from the start.
The next time I saw her was at Phoenix Hill, if memory serves,
Morlix was along, but still not a full band. Plus several times since.
The performance that stands a cut above the rest was in support of
long awaited, heralded “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.”
Jam packed to the gills Headliners. Late 90s I suppose, the album
was released in ’98. It was one of those nights. The crowd was ready.
She and her band were on.
From the first note, she fostered the full spectrum of emotions,
cutting deep into our souls. It was a take my glasses off, close my
eyes and get drenched in it evening.
Two tunes remain particularly memorable.
“Pineola” off the album “Sweet Old World,” a magnificent bit of
storytelling, about a funeral no less. It gets me every time.
The other, from “Car Wheels,” one of her getting messed over by another
man songs, “Joy.” Lucinda and her troupe raved on. And on.
The assembled, bumper to bumper in the packed house jumped on for the ride.
It was one of the most searing versions of any performer’s tunes I’ve ever experienced.
I distinctly remember walking out into the parking lot afterward totally spent.
I was not alone. Attempting to engage some friends who felt the same, we
were all without words.
Oh her way to West Memphis and Slidell, Lucinda Williams found her joy.
As did those of us with rock n roll hearts blessed to have been there.