Monday, June 11, 2007

Lucinda Williams (1998)

My introduction to Lucinda Williams was "You're Still Standing There", her magnificent duet with Steve Earle on his 1996 album, I Feel Alright...that and her cover of Victoria Williams' "Main Road" on 1993's benefit album, Sweet Relief. But, it was the former that really blew me away. I subsequently read about the Lucinda legend in No Depression, particularly how she's such a perfectionist that it took her six years to complete the followup to 1992's Sweet Old World.

The result of this six-year process was 1998's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, an absolute masterpiece and well worth the wait. I've already discussed my inherent but unintentional prejudice against female artists, so it should come as little surprise that this album's year-end rank of #4 on my list was the highest charting female artist to date. What might be a little less surprising is that no female artist has climbed higher since, with this ranking being matched only by Kelly Willis' What I Deserve in 1999, Kathleen Edwards' Failer in 2003, and Joanna Newsom's Ys in 2006. This, of course, does not include the #2 ranking of The Fiery Furnaces' Blueberry Boat in 2004 or The New Pornographers' #3 effort of 2005, Twin Cinema, as both bands receive significant contributions from, but are not really fronted by, female artists.

After Car Wheels and its followup, 2001's Essence, the strength of Lucinda's output has dropped off considerably, in my opinion. Though 2004's World Without Tears and this year's West were well received by many, I feel they lack the great songwriting of her previous work. I really only dipped into her back catalog a little as well, purchasing Sweet Old World, and not hearing her self-titled 1988 release until Sara made a copy for me a few years ago. It was probably as a result of bonding over Lucinda that I turned Sara on to Kathleen Edwards, and I was rewarded when Sara got her to sign the liner notes of my copy of her debut album, "To Dan, got her hooked, eh?" That last touch indicating she somehow knows of my history of fondness for Canadian artists. The only thing about Kathleen Edwards that Sara and I could never agree on was who had a better chance of sleeping with her. Probably neither of us.

Speaking of Kathleen Edwards, and other female alt-country artists such as Kelly Willis, to what extent is Lucinda Williams owed some credit for their ascendancy? I can't necessarily speak for their careers in general, but I can for their esteem in my book. Lucinda is, in some respects, the Jackie Robinson of my musical world. For years, I oppressed these female artists, never giving them the chance to prove that their talents could match up with their male counterparts. My admiration for Joni Mitchell was kind of an aberration, but Lucinda Williams has paved the way for those who've followed.

Alright, I'm exaggerating at my own expense here. Still, despite a diminished interest in the alt-country scene in recent years, female countryish vocalists are still a bit of a weak spot for me. They're not all necessarily in the mold of Lucinda Williams, but in my book, she certainly deserves some serious pioneering credit and, of course, the distinction of being the second female artist to infiltrate my Fab 40.


  1. gillian welch better show up too, or some heads are gonna roll!

  2. I was going to include Gillian Welch, but she just missed the cut in favor of Space Needle. I could change my mind, if you want?