By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
I won't cop to it if you ask me tomorrow, but I was not an early supporter of Lucinda Williams. Now, of course, I love her, think she's great, wish her luck, would stop using Napster if she asked me (OK, I wouldn't do that, but I would become one of those people for whom Napster is a promotional tool as opposed to an end unto itself, buying her records even if I'd already downloaded them weeks before their official, label-sanctioned release, albeit with the second song's terminating E7 chord cut mercilessly short by some clumsy Mac user's unsteady hand), but back in 1998, when her still-divine Car Wheels on a Gravel Road was released (I think at the time Shawn Fanning was like a sophomore in some underpaid, over-dedicated computer-engineering teacher's class at some high school somewhere, so I didn't have the month of jump time I'd have now, you see), I thought she was an overrated old country-rock bag with eyes full of the crossover-potential stars you'd expect of someone like, say, Vonda Shepard after Calista Flockhart gave her the ol' network-approved thumbs up (which is to say the ol' corporate tie-in/stock-option/you-scratch-our-back-we'll-renew-your-show thumbs up, which is to say not a thumb at all).
But now, O Lucinda, I see the error of my ways. Or, perhaps more accurately, I see how beautifully your Wheels goes round and round. Like all great records that take warming up to (in my case, actually hearing it once or twice instead of dismissing writers three times my age as half-deaf sycophants, or at least [at best?] out-of-touch grandfathers), Williams' fifth album has ostensibly become a fetish object, as indelibly linked to a specific time and place (uh, 1998, my room) as a girlfriend's scent or that episode of The Cosby Show where Denise makes Theo a shirt with fucked-up sleeves. That I didn't even know who Williams was when she made records like 1992's not-as-great- but-still-worth- Napstering-or-hey- why-don't-you-buy- it-I-mean-she-deserves- your-cash-if-Vonda- Shepard-does Sweet Old World (then again, as I've intimated, at the time I was a sophomore myself in some underpaid, over-dedicated creative-writing teacher's class [ha ha] at some high school somewhere, so cut me some slack; Alice in Chains' "Them Bones" was my idea of roots-rock) just makes me shiver twice.
That's not a subtle way of saying Williams turns me on--though she kind of does in a Bill and Ted's/hot-mom sort of way--but that her songs--the type that start out deeply personal and end up breathtakingly communal, and that's about as good as I can do at describing them (sorry, teach)--strike a hidden nerve most don't approach.
Begrudgingly belated note to self: Old people aren't always wrong. Or right.