Master songwriter and storyteller Lucinda Williams has made her near-legendary career on raw, open-chested emotion. But over the course of her last couple of albums, including her most recent release, Blessed, Williams has seemingly found it easier to revel in the safer side of vulnerability. Credit that much to the fact that she's been happy in love for the last few years now.
Those worrying that a relationally secure Williams would equal a less emotive artist or worse, a duller version of the sharp edge previously wielded by her pen, there's no cause for concern. We've taken a close listen and a hard look at the last few albums she's released and, clearly, suffering, conflicted happiness and apparent bitterness are still there for the sharing.
Still, before the release of her 2008 album Little Honey, Williams was the go-to artist for tunes filled with a veritable bouquet of painful memories, heartbreaks and losses. Delivered in her sexy-but-kind-of-scary drawl, Williams' catalog actually covers a wide swath of pain. There are a number of tumultuous tunes that evolved not just out of tears derived from a break-up or even from anger brought forth from being done wrong. Williams' ability to weave a non-autobiographical tale is every bit as strong as her ability to personally bleed onto a lyric sheet. But you wouldn't know she hadn't lived every word by the way in which she brings it all together on record.
Many of Williams releases since 1998 have been introduced under the considerable and justifiable shadow of what many still consider to be her master-work and the album that earned her a Grammy, Car Wheels On a Gravel Road. To be certain, her records after that landmark release deserve to be appreciated every bit as much as their more famous sister-album.
With Williams hitting Fort Worth this weekend for a show at Billy Bob's Texas, it seems like now is as good a time as any to take a look at her ten most emotionally damaged songs. Hit the jump with us, and let's have ourselves a good cry.
9. "Are You Alright?"
Who else can take a simple question that's often tossed-out rhetorically and turn it into a longing plea that leads to a hopeless dead-end? No one.
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8. "Drunken Angel."
Speaking of hopeless dead-ends: This tale of the hapless Austin folk-legend -- and Williams' friend -- Blaze Foley, is a country-rock cautionary tale. "Blood spilled out from the hole in your heart, over the strings of your guitar," might be the single best description of a shooting in a song.
7. "Jailhouse Tears."
In this duet with Elvis Costello fromLittle Honey
, the listener is treated to a rare, but all-too-real, bitter back-and-forth between a woman and her jailbird man. This tune is one of many great examples of a tune rife with pain, yet still manages to sound kind of fun somehow.
6. "Changed The Locks."
This swampy, blues-rock tune, covered by Tom Petty and even local honky-tonker Mo Robson, shows Williams channeling her bitterness into a power play for the control of her life.
Perhaps this one's a bitter bone thrown to the fans that miss the younger, angrier Lucinda and proof that Williams' latest album isn't completely full of daffodils and sunbeams. When she sings "Good luck finding your buttercup," it's pretty clear that she not only assumes the fella in question won't find that someone, but she's pretty happy about it.
4. "Can't Let Go."
This is another rollicking tune that finds Williams being straight-up honest and basically giving up as she reaches out to a man who won't reach back. Again, she doesn't sound bitter as much as she just seems to completely own her current state of affairs. That in and of itself is both helpless and hopeful all at once. By the way: This one wasn't actually written by Williams (Randy Weeks handled that), but it fits here regardless.
3. "Come On."
Never let it be said that Williams isn't a beacon of aggressive femininity. As in "Buttercup," she gets a bit of a kick out of expelling some anger here. Oh, she also makes sure this poor sap knows that he didn't take care of business when the lights went down. This searing number hides nothing when she growls "You think you're in hot demand, but you don't even know where to put your hands. Let me tell you where you stand: You didn't even make me... come on!" That's not exactly a minor amount of angst and frustration.
2. "Those Three Days."
This song fromWorld Without Tears
is perhaps the most brutal portrayal of loneliness in Williams' entire catalog. One needs nothing more than to read the lyrics to see why this song is on this list. Lines such as "And I have been so fucking alone since those three days," and "Did you only need me for those three days?" waste no time in getting to the tearful heart of the matter.
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This one takes the cake because of its sheer will to exact revenge. Williams wants her happiness back and she's going to get it, dammit. There's no ironic twist of humor or happiness taken in the fact that she's independent now with this tune;.judging from this menacing number that crawls along while Williams practically promises pain for the dude who did her wrong, there's little doubt she'll get what she needs and give that guy more than what he wants.