Lucinda @ Headliners: Rock n Roll Rewind

Posted: July 13th, 2023 | Filed under: Music, Rock & Roll Rewind | No Comments »

I’m a rock n roll lifer. I got stories. Lots of stories. Here’s another.

At her most brilliant, Lucinda Williams fashions truly evocative imagery from the most simple of lyrics.

None more concise than she sang with her most forlorn voice in the first song on her album “Essence.”

Lonely girls/ Lonely girls/ Lonely girls/
Heavy blankets/ Heavy blankets/ Heavy blankets/
Cover lonely girls

Was it a break up? A lamented one night stand? The passing of someone close?

It’s of no matter. We get what she is writing about, and it resonates because we’ve all been there.

She crafts basic desire “I just want to see you so bad,” an ode to the sweet ache of longing. Her songs are full with marvelous turns of phrase and pinpoint observations, “I see you there at the piano/ Your back a slow curve/ Playing Ray Charles and Fats Domino/ While I sang all the words.”

Then there’s that indelible orgasmic moan in the opening verse of “Right In Time.”

Lucinda’s been at it for a half century. Now, post-stroke, 70 years on, she’s getting more praise than ever upon the publication of her autobiography, “Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You,” and her rightfully acclaimed new album, “Stories From A Rock N Roll Heart.”

She’s played Louisville any number of times through the decades.

My first experience was when she opened for Joe Ely at Jim Porter’s Tavern. It was the early 80s, she played solo and lamented that guitar player Gurf Morlix wasn’t along. Her attire and manner were unassuming. Such that then and on, she’s never been shy about having her lyrics in front of the mic either on a music stand or the floor.

Then that voice. Oh that voice. The southern twang, the undercurrent of melancholy yet oft defiant. I was smitten from the start.

The next time I saw her was at Phoenix Hill, if memory serves, and Morlix was along, but still not a full band. Plus several times since.

The performance that stands a cut above the rest was in support of long awaited, heralded “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.”

(The story of that’s album’s history is too very typical. Though not released until June, ’98 — six years after her previous LP “Sweet Old World,” — it was originally recorded more than three years before the reveal in late winter ’95. But her label folded, so she was in limbo, until picked up by Mercury. But Lucinda didn’t really like the vocals, so she re-recorded the entire album in ’96. Live cut by cut with full band in the studio. It was ready for release in the summer of ’97. But wasn’t put on the market for another year.)

Which is why her fans were jonesing for it. Clamoring in anticipation. We were ready.

Headliners was jam packed to the gills when she arrived months after we finally savored “Car Wheels.”

It was one of those nights.

The crowd was ready.

She and her band were on.

It was worth the wait.

From the first note, she fostered the full spectrum of emotions, cutting deep into our souls. It was a take my glasses off, close my eyes and get drenched in it evening.

Two tunes remain particularly memorable.

“Pineola” off the album “Sweet Old World,” a magnificent a bit of storytelling, about a funeral no less. It gets me every time.

The other, from “Car Wheels,” one of her getting messed over by another man songs, “Joy.” Lucinda and her troupe raved on. And on.

The assembled, bumper to bumper in the packed house jumped on for the ride.

It was one of the most searing versions of any performer’s tunes I’ve ever experienced.

I distinctly remember walking out into the parking lot afterward totally spent. I was not alone. Attempting to engage some friends who felt the same, we were all without words.

Oh her way to West Memphis and Slidell, Lucinda Williams found her joy.

As did those of us with rock n roll hearts blessed to have been there.

To get a sense of how special that night at Headliners was, here’s a full video of that Austin gig, which was around the same time with essentially the same set list.

That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

Who is here for you, kids?

— c d kaplan

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