Lucinda Williams relives her memories of cities along life’s road
The cultish adoration heaped upon singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams, 63, is based on the universally held position that critics and other musicians recognize her as a major talent. The downside is that it took some time for the general public to hold her in the same high regard. The irony behind Williams’ slow simmer in warming up to the mainstream is that she’s a perfectionist. She often takes years before releasing a new project, allowing herself the time she feels necessary to adequately fine tune the material and recording process. Williams also confined her early work to smaller labels that agreed to submit to her insistence on having creative control, but lacked the firepower to truly get behind a project’s distribution and promotion.
This “meticulous attention to detail and staunch adherence to her own vision” are exactly what helped build Williams’ esteemed reputation, according to a bio posted on AllMusic.com. Even her simplest songs are “rich in literary detail … from her poetic imagery to her flawed, conflicted characters.” What’s more, the limited range of her singing voice developed into an “evocative instrument” that seemed entirely appropriate for her material, prompting critics to describe her as “the female Bob Dylan.”
The three-time Grammy Award winner’s new album, The Ghosts of Highway 20, was recorded in the middle of what a news release claims is arguably “the most prolific period of her nearly four-decade career.” The new project via Williams own Highway 20 Records was co-produced by the artist along with guitarist Greg Leisz and husband/manager Tom Overby. The album was recorded with Williams’ backup band Buick 6, which was recently named Best Backing Band of 2015 by “Garden & Gun” magazine.
The Ghosts of Highway 20 is labeled “unlike any other Williams’ album.” The theme revolves around the 1500-mile Highway 20 (aka Interstate 20) that runs in part from Georgia to Texas. The stretch of road passes through cities she’s lived in (Atlanta; Macon, Ga.), where she has family ties (Shreveport, La.; Monroe, La.), and locales she’s written about in her songs (Jackson, La.; Vicksburg, Miss.). Williams’ experiences and connections to these areas are the basis for what is described as “one of her most uniquely personal albums yet.”
The new 14-song collection features “some of the most expansive and experimental arrangements Williams has ever recorded,” while Leisz and guitarist Bill Frisell provide “incredible sonic textures and ethereal tones” that enhance Williams “brilliant writing” and “wise and weathered vocals.” Tracks such as ‘Louisiana Story’ and ‘Baton Rouge’ evoke “Southern imagery.” while ‘Dust’ finds the Louisiana native inspired by a poem written by her late father, poet Miller Williams. Other standout tracks include her rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Factory,’ and she paints her own “musical landscape” with lost Woody Guthrie lyrics on ‘House of Earth.’
Williams’ live performances connect with her audiences on a very personal level, allowing insight into the “soul of her artistry.” She is supporting The Ghosts of Highway 20 by embarking on a schedule of spring concerts during March and April. Stops include Los Angeles (March 4), Philadelphia (March 9-10), New Haven, Conn. (March 12), the City Winery in New York City (March 13), Tarrytown, N.Y. (March 19), Boston (March 21-22), Toronto (March 24-25), Kent, Ohio (March 26), Ann Arbor, Mich. (March 28-29), Nelsonville, Ohio (March 30), Chicago (April 1), Minneapolis (April 5-9), Denver (April 12-13), Breckenridge, Colo. (April14), Dallas (April17-19), and New Braunfels, Texas (April 22-23).
Watch Lucinda Williams in a live cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Factory,’ a featured track from the legendary singer-songwriter’s 13th studio album, The Ghosts of Highway 20.
As A Matter of Fact…
* Lucinda Williams was born January 26, 1953, in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Her father, Miller Williams, was a literature professor and published poet who passed on his love of language, Delta blues, and country music (especially Hank Williams Sr.) to his daughter.
* The Williams family moved frequently as a result of Lucinda’s father taking teaching posts at colleges throughout the South, Mexico City, and Santiago, Chile. Williams discovered Joan Baez and folk music in her pre-teen years, and was soon singing and writing songs after hearing Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited.
* In 1969, Williams was ejected from high school for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and in 1974 relocated to Austin, Texas. She became part of the burgeoning roots music scene and split time between Austin and Houston before moving to New York City.
* A demo tape got her a deal with the Smithsonian's Folkways label, and she went to Jackson, Miss., to record her first album at the Malaco studios. Ramblin' on My Mind (later retitled Ramblin') was released in 1979 and featured a selection of traditional blues, country, folk, and Cajun songs.
* In 1988, Williams’ self-titled album on British indie label Rough Trade became a touchstone for the emerging Americana movement, earning Williams rave reviews outside the mainstream. Patty Loveless covered the track ‘The Night's Too Long’ and scored a Top 20 country hit.
* While touring Australia with Rosanne Cash and Mary Chapin Carpenter, the latter decided to record Williams’ ‘Passionate Kisses’ and turned the song into a Top 5 country hit, winning a Grammy in 1993 as Country Song of the Year.
* Other artists were soon mining Williams' back catalog for material. Emmylou Harris recorded ‘Crescent City’ for her 1993 album Cowgirl's Prayer, and covered ‘Sweet Old World’ for her 1995 alternative country landmark, Wrecking Ball. Tom Petty covered ‘Changed the Locks’ for his 1996 album, She's the One.
* In 1995, Williams moved to Nashville, where Mercury stepped in to purchase the rights to new album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. The 1998 release became Williams’ first ever gold-selling LP, and the bright, contemporary roots rock project won her a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
* A shakeup at Mercury sent Williams to the Universal-distributed Lost Highway label for next album, Essence, which was released in 2001. The introspective collection finds Williams taking a simpler, more minimalistic lyrical approach, winning her a third Grammy when the track, ‘Get Right with God,’ was named Best Female Rock Vocal.
* Williams formed her own record label, Highway 20 Records, which released Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone in September 2014. The ambitious two-disc set conjures up the spirit of classic ‘70s country soul a la Dan Penn, Bobbie Gentry, and Tony Joe White.