Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels On A Gravel Road (1998): Review

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Produced by Roy Bittan, Steve Earle, Ray Kennedy and Lucinda Williams
Label – Mercury

Throughout her career, Lucinda Williams has maintained a profile that is honest, gritty and uncompromising to the demands of popular music expectations. She has also recorded albums on her own terms, and in line with the inevitable assumption that she is a brutal perfectionist, sporadically. “Car Wheels On A Gravel Road”, was the fourth new release in a career spanning almost twenty years. It had been six years in the making, and the astonishing level of anticipation by the music critics was only matched in the eventual roar of approval for a collection that most would cite as her crowning glory. The traditional country rock confessionals, time weathered from a life of loving and losing, delivered through a voice that drew similarities with Sheryl Crow (circa “The Globe Sessions”) after a couple of packs of Marlboro and half a bottle of finest Kentucky lubrication. The subject matter for the songs isn’t unfamiliar, but what makes “Car Wheels…” infinitely better than most in this genre is not only the attention to musical detail, but the contributions Williams coaxed from others. Listen to Gurf Morlix’s gentle acoustic slide on the closer, “Jackson”, Roy Bittan’s melodic accordion accompaniment of the daftly titled “2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten”, or Greg Leisz’s bluesy mandolin on the acoustic tousle with Steve Earle on “Concrete And Barbed Wire”. Almost every song has an identifiable geographic place either in the lyric or title, as if to validate her Southern credentials, and influence from Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot, to country singers Hank Williams and Loretta Lynn, to Delta blues artists, Robert Johnson and Skip James.

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Originally recorded in Austin TX, Williams, unhappy with the results, travelled to Nashville during 1996, and appointed Ray Kennedy, Roy Bittan and Steve Earle to produce. American Records head Rick Rubin then tried his hand at remixing the project. Her passionate appeals to the soul of the listener litter every song, from the interrupted childhood memories of the title track, to the punk like rant chant of “Joy”, where the words just tumble out, like spitting. Photographs of an original Juke joint “Freedom Village” by Birney Imes inspired the imagistic shifts of “2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten”, as reflections are finely detailed to include the scrawl on the wall. Another highlight, “Drunken Angel”, details the self destructive local hero, his shoes held together by duct tape, a tragic figure translated into musical terms with a mixture of sorrow and laughter. Her individualism is starkly portrayed on the almost masturbatory tones of “Right On Time”, a courageous song to set as opener, particularly considering the conservatism of traditionalist southern music fans.

But that creativity and brash indifference to predetermined expectations for a country rock artist are what make Williams the character she is. As lines from “I Lost It” confirm, “I just want to live the life I please, I don’t want no enemies, I don’t want nothing I have to fake it”. Seems that Lucinda Williams treats her career strictly on her own terms and in her own time.

8/10

Track Rating
1 – Right In Time (8)
2 – Car Wheels On A Gravel Road (8)
3 – 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten (9)
4 – Drunken Angel (9)
5 – Concrete And Barbed Wire (7)
6 – Lake Charles (7)
7 – Can’t Let Go (7)
8 – I Lost It (7)
9 – Metal Firecracker (7)
10 – Greenville (9)
11 – Still I Long For Your Kiss (7)
12 – Joy (9)
13 – Jackson (8)

Lucinda Williams – West (2007): Review

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2 responses to “Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels On A Gravel Road (1998): Review

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