Culture & Conversation

A Legend Whose Time Has Come

IN THE WAKE OF her smoking hot Metropolis concert with backup band Buick 6, Lucinda Williams’ tenth CD, Little Honey, has hit the stores. After a long but eventful artistic journey, Williams’ smoldering fusion of folk, rock, R & B, country, and Delta blues has melded into a high octane blend of Neil Young, Joan Baez, Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan, and Billie Holiday – all fermented in New Orleans and bottled in the Bayou.

Williams’ Young influences were everywhere evident in the rock numbers. Buick 6 even played a sweet rendition of Cinnamon Girl in their pre-show performance. Williams opened with Passionate Kisses, the song that won her first Grammy, her voice as raspy and electric as ever. She then delivered a smoky version of Steal Your Love, albeit not as smoky as the original recorded version. (She no longer needs to steal that love). By the time she geared down into the hypnotic Tears of Joy, a psychedelic rock gem from Little Honey, she had dazzled her audience with her searing, gravel-churning, Delta baby blues voice.

When she broke into the grunge rock ballad, Drunken Angel, I was breaking out in nostalgic goose bumps, remembering the times I drove all over North Carolina listening to Lucinda Williams (Rough Trade), a rare and distinctive album now hard to find. As she belted into Out of Touch, Williams begged Canadians to take in disgruntled Americans if Republican John McCain wins the presidential election.

Rocking the house down was what Williams was doing – with Buick 6 kicking in allusions to Pink Floyd in a muscular western vibe – a Zen energy that symbiotically backed her hot vocals. Drummer-percussionist Butch Norton, a dynamo in a massive white cowboy hat, seemed to defy gravity; he at times had one drum stick clenched in his teeth while he used his right hand for another instrument, his left keeping rapid tempo. All four musicians in Buick 6 were ripping good: Doug Pettibone, Chet Lyster guitarists, David Sutton, bass guitar.

Born to a poet father and a pianist mother, Lucinda Williams grew up in Mexico, Chile, and various parts of the American south. She has dabbled in every eclectic sound-puddle she has fallen into, gradually cultivating a fine reputation as a musician’s musician. She never sold out to the big labels as she was developing her talent; she insisted on control over her material. Unable to resolve the marketing quandaries caused by her multidimensional talent, Williams’ rarified mixing of musical genres, the big labels set her loose.

By sticking with smaller, less-known record companies like Folkways, Rough Trade and Mercury, Williams meandered her way through the genres and the years, honing her songwriting craft. This was how she glittered gold in 1998 with Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. The material passed through several metamorphoses with different producers before the final product garnered for this musician both critical acclaim and a Grammy. That’s what perseverance, vision – and muleheadedness – can do.

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