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The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

This review was first published on CLUAS in 1999
Other albums reviewed in 1999

Lucinda Williams

A review of the album 'Car Wheels on a Gravel Road'

Lucinda Williams 'Car Wheels on a Gravel Road'It has become a wondrous thing to hear a pop song or "single" that doesn't make you want to puke. So much of what becomes popular just plain insults your intelligence. So it's a real joy to listen to Lucinda Williams' latest: "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road". It's even more of a wonder that she is on the periphery of the C&W world (not exactly known for music that makes you think).

Ms. Williams writes songs that are the perfect blend of charming, memorable melodies and insightful, strong lyrics. She writes of broken relationships, longing, and loss without a hint of cynicism or "lowest common denominator" cliché. These songs are true, for her and for us.

She also captures the complexities of childhood. When I recently saw her perform the title song, she said that her father had been to a show, and, after hearing that song, found her backstage and apologized. These are shared secrets, shared intimacies, and the rest us gain by the sharing of them.

What strikes me most in this record, and in much of her past work, is the strength that she shows as a woman who is confident in herself, and is not defined by her relationship to any man. She sings of the loss of men to death ("2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten", "Drunken Angel", "Lake Charles") and to separation ("Metal Firecracker", "Jackson"). In either case, she accepts it and can handle it just fine. And her sense of humour apparently helps her through. In the melancholy song "Jackson", she uses the metaphor of a journey through the American South to express a progression of "moving on"; as she moves farther along her road, she makes it clear that she will cope with a loss (to death or to breakup?) admirably: "All the way to Jackson, I don't think I'll miss you much".... "Once I get to Baton Rouge, I won't cry a tear for you". The sadness and simplicity of the lovely melody with the honesty of the singing, perfectly compliment the song's complex emotions. The lady Williams is a master of expressing those complexities.

You can hear Lucinda's intelligence, humour, and hard-earned wisdom on this record. If she comes to town, go see her play these songs. You will not be disappointed. She's the real thing.

John Ford