Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 7:52 a.m.
If Emmylou Harris is the undisputed queen of modern country, then Lucinda Williams is the heir apparent.
Born January 26, 1953, Williams is feisty, uncompromising, and the closest thing to an Americana insurgent the roots-rock genre has to offer, at least from a female perspective.
In addition, she's managed to meld rock, folk, blues, and, of course, country in a way that's boosted her to the top of the critics' polls and made her a darling of the alt-country crowd. She started out inconspicuously in the late '70s and early '80s with a pair of traditional blues albums. However, with her eponymous effort in 1988, she garnered huge critical acclaim, due in large part to "Passionate Kisses," its Grammy-garnering signature song.
Still, she didn't truly hit her stride until the 1990s, thanks to the landmark albums Sweet Old World (1992) and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998), her biggest successes at that point. The latter album gained gold status and subsequently reaped another Grammy, assuring her the attention and notoriety that she clearly was due.
Meanwhile, Williams started keeping company with other artists who would help boost her reputation. There was Mary Chapin Carpenter (whose cover of "Passionate Kisses" gained her that first Grammy), Bob Dylan (with whom she toured), Tom Petty, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, and erstwhile producer Gurf Morlix, all of whom helped nudge her along.
Her next success came with 2001's album Essence
, a more daring, alternative effort that earned her yet another Grammy, this one for Best Female Rock Vocal for the single "Get Right With God," one of the album's few up-tempo tunes. World Without Tears
in 2003 confirmed her critical standing.
Four years later, she released her most tumultuous effort of all, an album titled West
that dealt with both the death of her mother and a relationship torn asunder. Little Hone
y, her 2008 offering, marked a radical musical departure, given its cover of AC/DC's "Long Way to the Top" and the inclusion of "Jailhouse Tears," a searing duet with Elvis Costello. Blessed
, her latest release, received more rave reviews and, in another unusual twist, was sold with a variety of dramatically different album covers.
That penchant for unleashing the unexpected is pretty much par for the course as far as Williams is concerned, even when it comes to nonmusical matters. Although she was scheduled to marry her fiancé, former Universal Music executive Tom Overby, in 2006, the two didn't tie the knot until September 18, 2009, when they eloped onstage in Minneapolis during the concert's encore.
By any measure, that's some showstopper!
However, that's Williams' way of doing things. She threw her support behind Amnesty International's campaign to halt the execution of one David Lee Powell, a man convicted in 1978 in the shooting death of an Austin police officer during a traffic stop. He was tried twice, convicted, and sentenced to death both times. When he was finally executed by lethal injection on June 15, 2010, Williams' website denounced it as cruel and unusual punishment. However, she also wrote a song in honor of the slain officer and offered the proceeds to his family.
Still, as evidenced by a recent performance at the Parker Playhouse, Williams may have mellowed. Despite her penchant for crafting durable melodies, she's always grappled with issues that reflected a downcast perspective and dashed expectations. Now at least, she seems content, having won a sizable audience without having to sacrifice her integrity. After years spent venting frustration and furtive desire, Williams may be pulling back the reins, giving voice to what appears a more contented state of mind.
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