Lucinda Williams to Play MPAC, 6/20
Lucinda Williams has always been adept at painting landscapes of the soul, illuminating the spirit's shadowy nooks and shimmering crannies -- but she's never captured the sun breaking through the clouds as purely as on her Lost Highway release, Little Honey.
Over the course of a recording career that's now in its fourth decade, the Louisiana-born singer has navigated terrain as varied as the dust-bowl starkness of her 1978 debut Ramblin' (recorded on the fly with a mere 250 dollar budget behind her) and the stately elegance of West (which Vanity Fair called "the record of a lifetime"). Between those signposts, Lucinda Williams established a reputation as one of rock's most uncompromising and consistently fascinating writers and performers, earning kudos from artists as diverse as Mary-Chapin Carpenter (who helped win Williams a Grammy with her recording of "Passionate Kisses") and Elvis Costello (who joins her for a duet on the Little Honey mini-drama "Jailhouse Tears").
Williams learned the importance of professional integrity around the same time most kids are learning their ABCs, thanks in a large part to her award-winning poet father Miller Williams -- who invested her with a "culturally rich, but economically poor" upbringing where artistic expression was of primary importance. Later, she'd hone her vision playing hardscrabble clubs around her adopted home state of Texas, absorbing the influence of sources as varied as Bob Dylan and Lightnin' Hopkins.
"I sometimes say I just started out singing folk songs acoustically by default," she recalls. "Even when I was playing open mic nights by myself, I'd be sitting up on stage with my Martin guitar doing 'Angel' by Jimi Hendrix or 'Politician' by Cream alongside Robert Johnson and Memphis Minnie songs. It never occurred to me to pick just one style."
She's never settled for any sort of pigeonholing, entering the '90s with the slow-burning Sweet Old World -- a disc that, as much as any release, helped place the Americana movement at the forefront of listeners' minds -- and cementing her own spot in the cultural lexicon with 1998's rough-hewn masterpiece Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.
The latter disc earned Williams her first Grammy as a performer, but rather than try to capture the same lightning in a bottle a second time, she stretched her boundaries on 2001's Essence, an album rife with both cerebral interludes and soul-stirring stomps. In recent times, Williams has broadened her palette even further through frequent collaborations with kindred spirits -- acts as varied as The North Mississippi All-Stars and Flogging Molly -- who share her uncommon sense of non-revivalist traditionalism.