I don’t think it would matter what language Lucinda Williams was singing in, I think her voice would have the same effect on me regardless. I’ve never heard anything like it. It is hard to say with certainty because as I have been listening to this disc over and over again and I keep changing my mind, but I think that “Lake Charles” at least right now and at this moment, is my favorite song on the album.
I love the way she sings:
He was born in Nacogdoches
That’s in East Texas
Not far from the border
But he liked to tell everybody
He was from Lake Charles
She draws out the town name Nacogdoches to at least two more syllables than are really there, and simply sings the rest of this little verse with a yearning that doesn’t seem necessary considering the mundane aspect of the lyrics presented. Lucinda was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana herself (not Nacogdoches, Texas) and is the daughter of a poet.
Something about her music changed with this album. I had heard Lucinda before, and may even have owned the previous album (Sweet Old World), but when Car Wheels on a Gravel Road came out it was pretty amazing. She was singing on the Today show, she had a single on the charts; everybody seemed to know who she was for a brief period of time in 1998-99. I was riding to work this morning listening to the CD yet again. The production values are so good, the musicians playing the instruments are absolutely perfect, and something is different with Lucinda’s voice. She had that voice before, but it seemed muted and restrained compared to what she did on this album and going forward. There are the previous four albums, then Car Wheels (the high point), then all of her others which are not as good as this one, but better than the first four.
There is one other CD I own which astonishes me with how good it sounds when I put it in my home stereo, Rumours by Fleetwood Mac.
As you might imagine I was somehow able to see Lucinda in concert the year this album was released. It was in a little place called the Carefree Theatre in West Palm Beach, Florida. Despite all of the hype going on about Car Wheels at the time, the show was pretty lightly attended. Lucinda mentioned the small crowd between songs and a lady in the audience went “Ahhhhh”, to which Williams then replied, “Don’t feel sorry for us, we’ve been playing to some very large audiences on this tour!” Not to mention the Today show. South Floridians are fickle.
On the song “I Lost It”, Lucinda sings:
Gimme some love to fill me up
Gimme some time, gimme some stuff
Gimme a sign, gimme some kind of reason
Are you heavy enough to make me stay?
I feel like I might blow away
I thought I was in Heaven, but I was only dreaming
In this case, the urgency in her voice matches the lyrics sung.
The album is a travelogue of Southern cities and places. Among those mentioned, are:
Louisiana – Algiers, Opelousas, Slidell, Lake Charles, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Lake Pontchartrain (which is a lake, not a city)
Mississippi – Jackson, Vicksburg, Rosedale
Georgia – Macon
Arkansas – West Memphis
South Carolina – Greenville
Texas – Nacogdoches
She missed the chance to mention Natchitoches, Louisiana too, but it is not pronounced phonetically like the similarly spelled city in Texas. I’m not sure why I mention this geography, other than that since I live in the South and have been to most of these cities it is fun to hear them in song, overwhelming really for just one album. You do think “Louisiana” when you listen to this album; the voice, the instruments used, the way they go together to make the sound. There is a Cajun-y, Zydeco sort of thing going on in the background of many songs.
Several years ago, I was travelling with a friend to some remote beach in the Florida panhandle and we were playing another Lucinda Williams disc in the car. He informed me that he does not like male singers, only enjoys listening to female voices. This has nothing to do with anything, except that Lucinda was singing when the comment was made to me. It is a curious statement.
I put the CD in my car when I decided I should write on it, and have probably listened to it seven or eight times in the past few weeks. It does not get old. The songs are powerful, and just when I think there might be one or two weak ones, the next listen through something invariably strikes me about one of those songs. Silly lyrics can be fueled by fantastic musicianship, or even just her very powerful voice. Emmylou Harris sings the song “Greenville” with her, and there is no female singer working who can better sing harmony.
I recommend this album to everyone, without reservation. To paraphrase Nick Hornby (from his book, Songbook) it is one of those albums that you love, recommend to everyone, and become grumpy if they do not love it as much as you do!
—Stu Moore is a friend of the proprietor of this blog, and is just trying to do the best he can. What else can he do?