AUK’s top 10 americana albums ever: Number 3 – Lucinda Williams “Car Wheels On A Gravel Road”

Mercury Records, 1998

Once the AUK writers’ votes started to come in, it soon became clear that there was a top-five breakaway. Already this week we have revealed our equal fourth albums that were part of that breakaway. Now as we reach Number 3 in our list, a couple of additional observations can be made. Firstly, Lucinda Williams is the first female artist that has so far emerged in the top 10. That’s a shame, but may also have something to do with the historical under-representation of female artists in all forms of music, of which americana is no exception. Others female artists were represented in the short-list and the full top 20 with votes received will be published with the Number 1 on Friday.

Secondly, there is now a widespread consensus that a large number of the leading americana artists in 2021, particularly newer artists, are women. The prodigiously talented Courtney Marie Andrews being just one example. Hopefully were this process be repeated at some time in the future, the votes would then reflect this. In the meantime David Jarman offers his appreciation of the immense work that is ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road’.

Undisputed Queen of Americana, this is one of the greatest albums of the genre – every song a winner. From opener ‘Right in Time’, through the title track, to other classics such as ‘Drunken Angel’, ‘Greenville’ and the supremely angry ‘Joy’. Williams’ vocals are perfect for her material, and arrangements are as good as it gets, its impact undimmed by the twenty-plus years since its release.

A native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, Williams’ songs are inspired by everyday life, especially broken relationships, and those living life on the edge, and have a gritty, emotional urgency that comes straight from the heart. Williams toured the world in 2019 with a special set revisiting the album, in full, with her stories of how each song came to be written, a rare insight into the writing process, ranging from the childhood memories of her upbringing in the southern US ( the title track),  disappointment in love ( ‘Metal Firecracker‘) to graffiti waiting to be interpreted (“2 Kool 2 Be 4-gotten“) – an intimate and memorable experience.

Though recording started in 1995 in Austin, with the album nearing completion Williams was dissatisfied, and the tracks were shelved, and re-recorded in Nashville, an endeavour clearly worthwhile, though it would be interesting to hear the original recordings. The producer on the final version was Roy Bittan, and ‘A’ list support comes from Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, longtime collaborator Gurf Morlix and Buddy Miller.

Bringing her overdue artistic and commercial success, Williams’ career blossomed in the album’s wake, with regular releases maintaining her reputation, notably her 2014 release ‘Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone‘ and last years’ ‘Good Souls Better Angels‘, but ‘Car Wheels‘ will always be up there with her best.

About Clint West 184 Articles
From buying my first record aged 10 and attending my first gig at 14, music has been a lifelong obsession. A proud native of Suffolk, I have lived in and around Manchester for the best part of 30 years. My idea of a perfect day would be a new record arriving in the post in the morning, watching Ipswich Town win in the afternoon followed by a gig and a pint with my mates at night,

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