West, the latest album from Lucinda Williams, was released in February.
Lost Highway Records/Marina Chavez
The album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road is the work that introduced Lucinda Williams to most of her fans. It won a Grammy. Rolling Stone and Spin called it one of the top discs of the 1990s. It has sold twice as much as anything else she’s done.
It was a career highlight and a straitjacket.
“Ever since Car Wheels I’ve been struggling with where do I go now? What do I do?” says Williams. “I was defined by Car Wheels and everything I’ve done since gets compared to Car Wheels. “
West, released in February and her third collection of new music since that 1998 landmark, may be the disc to set her free. Produced by Hal Willner, it’s a sonic departure with tight writing and experimental song structure. Williams’ weathered voice and depressing subject matter sound familiar, but it’s far away from the gravel road.
West is a smouldering disc that moves at a slow pace, with only two full-out blues rockers. Willner’s background is more avant garde than alt-country, with Lou Reed, Bill Frisell and tribute albums to Charles Mingus and Thelonius Monk on his production resume.
Willner surrounds her songs with new flavours. Strings and an organ often swirl beneath Williams’ voice and guitar, all anchored by Jim Keltner’s apocalyptic drumming.
The songs’ inventiveness and sturdy character on the new album unfold during repeated listenings. Several steer clear of traditional structures.
Wrap my Head Around That, essentially a nine-minute rap, is one new song some fans might find jarring.
“I’ve always had an eclectic approach to things, but it took a while to getting around to making it happen,” she said. “I’m just more serious now. I’m more confident as a writer. I’m not afraid to leap over into different styles.”