tue 20/08/2019

Lucinda Williams, Barbican review - memories, heartache and Southern secrets | reviews, news & interviews

Lucinda Williams, Barbican review - memories, heartache and Southern secrets

Lucinda Williams, Barbican review - memories, heartache and Southern secrets

Lucinda Williams performs her 'Car Wheels on a Gravel Road' album in its entirety

Lucinda Williams: set of keys and a dusty suitcaseDavid McClister

“I’m talking about these songs in more depth than I usually do, revealing a few secrets along the way,” says a black–jeaned, cowboy-booted Lucinda Williams after singing “Right in Time”, the achingly erotic first song on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, her breakthrough, Grammy-winning, never-bettered album of 1998. She’s on a year-long, sell-out tour celebrating the record’s 20th anniversary, in which she performs the album in full, plus a few other numbers.

Playing full-album gigs has become quite a trend, but this has an added dimension. The set is a kind of memoir, complete with old home movies of family travels, photos and hand-written lyrics, and with Williams’s halting Southern drawl providing a between-song commentary about heartbreaks, friends and places. She turned 66 this year, and her husky, gritty voice is as atmospheric as ever, complemented by her accomplished band, Buick 6: David Sutton on bass, Butch Norton on drums and ace guitarist Stuart Mathis, who has toured with the Wallflowers, among others.

'Metal Firecracker' involves a road romance that she seems embarrassed to recall

In “2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten”, we see scratchy photos of that graffiti'd title phrase on the wall of the “Rosedale, Mississippi, Magic City Juke Joint” where “Mr Johnson sings over in a corner by the bar”; she tells us it’s from a book by a photographer she loves, Birney Imes, and it’s actually a place in Washington County. Before “Drunken Angel”, we hear about its hero, Blaze Foley, her doomed, alcoholic Texan friend with “duct-tape shoes” who was shot dead at the age of 39. Here’s an old photo of him, holding a bottle of bourbon. These details add a new dimension of sadness and nostalgia to those haunting place-names: Nagodoches, Lake Charles, Vicksburg and the ineffable “Greenville”. “That was a real vibrant time,” she tells us, “living in Austin and Houston, before I moved to Los Angeles.”

“Concrete and Barbed Wire”, which she wrote after the Berlin Wall came down, has now acquired a whole new meaning. She refers to “our guy”, not wishing to honour him with the term president. “And I’m sorry, y’all over here, “ she adds. Everyone hoots and cheers.

“Metal Firecracker” involves a road romance that she seems embarrassed to recall, though it's hardly the most shocking story, but she's told it once so now, she says, she has to repeat it at every gig: she dumped a boyfriend, who then trashed a hotel room, for a man who’d called her his queen – the tour bus in which they made out was the metal firecracker in question – and then, once she was free, didn't want to know. "Keep that in mind," she warns us. “Still I Long for your Kiss” is “about another travesty of a romance”. Prime Williams territory.

"I thought I'd have to compete with Car Wheels for the rest of my life," she says, and refers to the encouragement she found in listening to Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind, hailed as a comeback. She sings "The Ghosts of Highway 20" from her 2016 eponymous album and compared with the languid, raw glory of Car Wheels, the lyrics sound flat. But still, It’s in the final, post-Car Wheels numbers that the band really lets rip and Williams is happy to showcase them on “Steal Your Love”, “Honey Bee” (not her best song) and “Changed the Locks”, covered, she's proud to say, by Tom Petty. Everyone’s on their feet by the last uplifting encore, “Foolishness”, in which she yells, “I don’t need racism in my life/I don’t need walls in my life”. We need her in ours.

        

These details add a new dimension of sadness and nostalgia to those haunting Southern place-names

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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