Thursday, October 16, 2008
I'm going to really be writing about music a lot now...
Having said that...
I’m re-falling in love with Lucinda Williams. Williams’ just released Little Honey is reaffirming something I’ve said many times in the past - Lucinda Williams is the best living American songwriter.
I first came across Lucinda Williams when Rolling Stone magazine, a publication I once revered, gave her record Car Wheels on a Gravel Road a perfect five star review. I bought the record, though prior to this I had very little affection for country music, and was floored. It’s a beautiful record with no flaws. If you haven’t heard it, you really should. In fact if someone held a gun to my head and said “what’s your favorite record of all time” (which is actually a ridiculous scenario that people tend to overuse – no one would threaten to kill you and then agree not to just because you answered the question “what’s your favorite record) I would probably say Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Just thinking about it makes me smile and listening to it, has been one my life’s more pleasurable experiences for nearly a decade.
The beauty of Car Wheels is that it made me seek out earlier Lucinda material, which is almost equal in quality and further, it forced me to seek out numerous great country acts that have since become some of my favorite musicians and as a whole the genre, when done right, is one I respect greatly and count among my favorites.
Following Car Wheels, Lucinda released three records and a stellar live collection (which contains the definitive version of her great song “Change the Locks”) before Little Honey. The studio records are hit and miss for me, with 2007’s West being probably my least favorite. I’ve never soured on Lucinda though, since she made what I consider one of the greatest records ever and Essence and World Without Tears certainly have a great number of high points (“Over Time” and “I Envy the Wind” on the former and “Those Three Days”, “Sweet Side” and “Real Life Bleeding Fingers…” on the latter), but nothing grabbed me like Car Wheels.
I’m not sure if Little Honey is that record either. It’s a very different record. It’s a happy record. Car Wheels took years for the perfectionist Williams to complete and all that labor and hardship is represented in every syllable and guitar strum. Car Wheels is a record you feel, a record to connect to, honestly it’s a record you immerse yourself in.
Little Honey on the other hand finds Williams happy and in love, something that has eluded her for most of playing career. I find it looks good on her. Little Honey is rambunctious and snappy, but with that knack for storytelling and that flawed but fabulous voice of Lu’s that I love so much. At her best Williams writes songs that read like short stories about very regular people, not unlike Bruce Springsteen. The main difference between the two artists, up to this point, has been Williams penchant for playing up the melancholy whereas Springsteen’s best songs find hope amid the turmoil. Lucinda is hopeful now, but I don’t think it’s dulled her edge as a songwriter. It’s a change, but it’s a change I for one am welcoming. When I listen to Little Honey I enjoy myself. While some of her recent records have been, at times, chores to get through, this one isn’t. This is not to suggest that Lucinda is becoming a pop artist, not at all. She’s probably not going to have a hit off Little Honey, but I can guarantee if you’re a fan you will want to listen to Little Honey rather than view it as an obligation.