Friday, June 1, 2007

Lucinda Williams

June ’07 – I was given Emmylou Harris’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ for Christmas when it came out in the early-mid ‘90s. I wasn’t sure about the production (Daniel “Turn Up The Reverb” Lanois) but there were some songs on it that I fell completely in love with: ‘Going Back To Harlan’ (my introduction to the McGarrigle sisters) and ‘Sweet Old World’. I had heard Lucinda Williams before and didn’t like the way she sang. She didn’t sing – she chewed. But I had to admit, ‘Sweet Old World’ was one of the saddest and most beautiful songs I had ever heard. Several years later, I gave Lucinda another go with ‘Car Wheels On A Gravel Road’. Same problem; I liked the album, but just wished that Emmylou had been singing it instead. Then, after ten or fifteen years of ambivalence, I bought Lucinda’s first album for $2 (from my local, at the Parramatta end of Glebe Pt Rd) and, after a few listens, finally understood. She is a difficult knot of harshness and sweetness. She brutally undermines her lovely melodies and neat word-plays, not because she wants to make things hard for the listener, but because she is trying, trying, to be honest; hoping that somehow we can accept the way she sees the world; and hoping that we won’t refuse to listen unless she comes back with a sugar-coated version. My favourite on this album ended up being ‘CRESCENT CITY’. I don’t even know exactly why; it captures some happy-sad, looking-back mood, “We used to dance the night away/ Me and my sister, me and my brother/ We used to walk down by the river.” And there is a fantastic, subtle chord change between the verse and chorus, and a melody that just makes me want to sing along at top volume.