I moved around a lot growing up, but spent a good chunk of my formative years in Louisiana. The same can be said of Lucinda, and that’s a large part of what led me to pick up an album of hers years ago. I’d probably have to give due credit to Vic Chesnutt’s song by her name, as well.
For the uninitiated, Lucinda Williams is the sort of singer/songwriter that country musicians love, but country music fans may not even know. If they have heard of her, they’re probably mostly familiar with this self-titled release’s “Passionate Kisses”, which netted her a songwriting Grammy several years later when Mary Chapin Carpenter had a hit with it. Tom Petty fans may recognize “Change the Locks”.
And those are only a few of a highlights on what is one of the better and more diverse entries in Mrs. Williams’ catalogue. At its core is a gritty, dusty country record, one that alternatingly sounds like the life of the party or the lonely soul at the end of the bar. There’s elements of rock and pop to be found for sure, but the minimalist production ensures that it never pushes into Nashville New Country territory. What emerges instead is a straight-on approach, one resulting in a timeless record that allows itself to be carried by the strength of the songwriting. Frankly, it’s easy to forget this album is from 1988; it doesn’t sound like anything from the time, rock, pop, or country.
The zydeco-tinged “Crescent City” is close to the best three minutes she’s put down in her career, and “Big Red Sun Blues” isn’t far behind. It’s an album both confident and vulnerable, determined and unsure. Lucinda would take this blueprint to her zenith a decade later with Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, but this is as good a point of entry to her work as any.