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Lucinda Williams - Lucinda Williams

  by Carl Bookstein

published: 27 / 8 / 2009

Lucinda Williams - Lucinda Williams


Country star Lucinda Williams first two albums. 'Ramblin' and 'Happy Woman Blues', are just about to be re-released on CD. Carl Bookstein finds much to recommend with both

Born in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1953, Lucinda Williams would start out playing simple folk and country blues. Originally she was inspired by the early to mid 1960's folk music of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan as well as the blues, including the work of Robert Johnson. The 1960s American folk boom turned her on to the possibilities of a career in music. Williams would rise to become one of the best and most heralded singer songwriters of our times. Retroworld has just re-issued Williams’ first two albums: 1979’s 'Ramblin’, an album entirely of covers of rural blues, gospel and folk tunes as well as 1980’s 'Happy Woman Blues', Williams’ first album of original songs. As Williams’ career progressed, she would become known for songs that were rich in literary detail, poetic imagery and flawed conflicted characters. Her singing voice developed into an evocative instrument well suited to her songwriter material. In a thirty year career, Williams is established as among America’s most perceptive, honest and poignant songwriters. When I listen to Williams’ later work- albums like 1998’s 'Car Wheels on a Gravel Road' and 2003’s 'World without Tears', I am blown away by the artist she has become. As I listen to 'World without Tears', the opening track 'Fruits of My Labor' washes over me and I literally get high without any substance intake. 'Ramblin’ and 'Happy Woman Blues' are simpler pleasures. Cut originally for the Folkways label, 'Ramblin' is just Williams’ voice and acoustic twelve string guitar along with simply the accompaniment of six string acoustic guitar played by John Grimaudo. She uses traditional purist songs on 'Ramblin’ as she embarks on the road to finding her voice. On the opening track, Williams starts off the album with Robert Johnson’s composition 'Ramblin’ on My Mind'. Her voice sounds truly young and fresh as she sings “I’m going to pack up my bags. Going to leave on the morning train.” A couple songs in there is a version of the traditional 'Motherless Children': “Motherless children have a hard time when the mother’s dead.” Next is one of the most appealing tunes on the album, 'Malted Milk Blues' written by Robert Johnson. Lucinda Williams’ twelve string sounds clear and pristine here. 'Jug Band Music' is a pleasing number where we can hear the sound of innocence in Williams’ early origins. The work is not as powerful as her dominant singer-songwriter material that would emerge as her career developed, but the tunes are compelling in their straight ahead delivery and simplicity. Williams tackles another Robert Johnson tune, 'Stop Breakin’ Down', performed most notably by the Rolling Stones on 'Exile on Main Street'. It is worthwhile for the diehard Lucinda fan to go back and hear these early roots songs. 'Ramblin' closes with a poignant version of “Satisfied Mind” filled with simple wisdom: “I lost every dime, but I’m richer by far with a satisfied mind.” 'Happy Woman Blues', Williams’ first album of original compositions, is the more interesting of the two re-releases. It is filled with road songs and other raw earthy material. Unlike 'Ramblin’, 'Happy Woman Blues' finds Williams playing with a larger group of musicians. 'Lafayette', the opening track, is a playful Cajun waltz with added authentic fiddle by Malcolm Smith. 'I Lost It', the second number, was eventually re-recorded for 'Car Wheels on a Gravel Road'. Williams obviously found it to be an unpolished gem. In this original version it is more of a simple country tune. 'I Lost It' features compelling singing and a fine performance: “I thought I was in heaven, but I was only dreaming.” 'Maria' is a road song, something of a country strum along and has a fine narrative flow to its lyric. “The highway has always been your lover… Wherever you stay wouldn’t really matter, because all of those cities start to look the same.” The title track features compelling slide guitar work. The song showcases her blues influences and once again speaks to life on the road. 'Happy Woman Blues' is made up of country tinged songs and folk blues; simple tunes put forth with fine delivery. 'One Night Stand' is rendered with bruised charm as the heroine strives to find love in this world. 'Howlin’ at Midnight' follows in this same vein: “I ain’t got nobody. I’m nobody’s girl. I’m going to get my Mercury and drive around the world.” 'Sharp Cutting Wings (Song to a Poet)' concludes the album. The song is one of the stronger outings here with a fine yearning lyric and heartfelt singing. “Your words run through me like the blood in my veins.” While 'Ramblin’ and 'Happy Woman Blues' do not rise to the level of Williams’ later work, they are pleasant efforts that perhaps show hints of what is to come. With 2007’s 'West' and 2008’s 'Little Honey', Williams is currently hitting her stride, producing some of the best work of her career. I am grateful that the 1979 and 1980 albums have been re-released giving some insight into her origins.

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Lucinda Williams - Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams - Lucinda Williams

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