Long journey home

Lucinda Williams' Car Wheels roll on a perfect road

"None of it was an easy process," Williams says with a slight laugh and a sigh. "It's just, we came to this point where we said, 'We've got to get this record out, whatever it takes.'"

Williams suggests that perhaps the reason Morlix took his "replacing" so personally is because producing a record with Lucinda Williams is far more than a job--it's, well, personal. Her records, especially the new one, mince few words, speak in plain language, and reveal almost everything about the woman a stranger would ever need to know in order to mistake her as a friend. Car Wheels offers up a handful of songs about death--the death of love, mostly the death of friends who pissed away talent and ambition until they became victims of their own futile impulses. The subject of "Drunken Angel" is a musician Williams once knew in Austin who found his sad ending at the bottom of a bottle; she recalls not only his talent, but also the moment when it all ended: "Blood spilled out from the hole in your heart / Over the strings of your guitar / The worn down places in the wood / That once made you feel so good." Another man, who's "2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten," jumps off a bridge, but not before asking Lucinda if she'd like to leap with him ("I told him: 'No way, baby, that's your own death, you see'").

Williams is not one to sentimentalize such moments; she commingles sadness with anger and bitterness, tears with bile. The album's at once an adult's wistful recollection of childhood (the title track) and a bittersweet look back at a time when love meant something hopeful and good ("Metal Firecracker"); it's funny, wise, sorrowful, furious--in other words, perfect. Her language is precise; her music, enveloping. The girl who made Ramblin' has become a harder, wiser woman, and the music is that much better for it.

"You just have to start delving into other levels of it and digging deeper," Williams says. "As you grow as a person, your perception's gonna change. You're not going to have the same kind of wide-eyed sense of discovery you had when you were young, but you can go to a different place with it. You can use your wisdom as a writer, so it just kinda becomes a different perception more than anything else, and your writing improves with age, hopefully.

"In the writing world where I come out of, the older you get, the better you get. It's not like in the pop, instant-gratification world, where when you're young and hungry and living on the edge, that's where you create your best work, and when you get older, it's all over with. I don't think the amount of money you have and your level of success should have anything to do with your level of creativity. That's something between you and your demons."

Lucinda Williams performs December 8 at the Gypsy Tea Room. Jim Lauderdale opens.

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