Lucinda Williams is tremendous. She has done duets with everyone from Costello to Croz to Cockburn [with stops along the way with heroic Brits Graham Parker and Ray Davies], but last night at the Belly Up was the first time I saw her live. Wow!
It is a perfect venue for her, as she can connect with the audience. As the daughter of a poet, she combined her affinity for music and words at an early age. Her Lake Charles, Louisiana upbringing informs her work, which is an appealing blend of rock, folk, country and blues that we now categorize as Americana. A series of albums met with critical acclaim but mostly marketplace indifference, until she broke through in 1998 with Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.
Fellow artists have always sung her praises, hence the somewhat endless list of her duet partners. “Passionate Kisses”, a song later recorded by Mary Chapin Carpenter, is probably Williams’ most recognizable song; it won Williams her first Grammy Award (for Best Country Song in 1994).
Anyone endeared by Bonnie Raitt or Emmylou Harris knows of Williams. Throughout the evening at the Belly Up, Williams dug deep into the world weary ache and deep blues that is the bedrock of her best songs. A sense of melancholy courses through her work, apparent in several songs from her soon to be released double album (look for it in July). Although she often takes lengthy periods of time between releases, it appears she has a recent prolific burst, as she has songs already lined up for another release after the double album.
She introduced one of several news songs as “West Memphis, ” which tells the sad, true tale of three teens falsely accused and incarcerated for years.
Her crack three piece back up band featured Butch Norton on drums, David Sutton on bass and Stuart Mathis on guitar. Mathis is on loan from the Wallflowers, and he provided most of the evening’s melodic fascination. He repeatedly honored the spirit of Williams’ songs and she in turn gave him all sorts of space to stretch.
Toward the end of the evening, just when I wondered if Mathis missed sparring with another guitarist, Williams invited special guest Marc Ford to the stage. The former Black Crowes lead guitarist strapped on one of Mathis’ several guitars, Mathis sported Williams’ silver flecked guitar and we were off to the races. Having never seen any of the pyrotechnics when Clapton and Allman traded guitar licks on stage, I was certain I had a taste at the Belly Up.