For the last 40 years, Lucinda Williams has shown herself to be one of the major figures in Americana. She has a string of well-respected albums that go back to the late 70s and she’s mentioned as a major influence by just about anyone who matters in the world of roots-rock. So when Williams suffered a stroke back in November 2020 it shocked the entire genre. The stroke affected her left side, leaving her unable to play guitar and requiring support when walking. But thankfully, it didn’t affect her voice and, to a lot of people’s amazement, she managed to recover in time for her to tour with Jason Isbell in the summer of 2021. So most of the knowledgeable Celtic Connection audience should have been reassured that it would all be fine – and maybe it was just me – but it felt like there was a degree of anxiety hanging in the air. How would this gig compare to her last Celtic Connections appearance back in 2016 when she rocked the Glasgow Concert Hall with more ferocity than many might have anticipated?
From the opening bars of the Randy Weeks-penned ‘Can’t Let Go‘ the musical swagger of Williams’ breathtakingly fine backing band, Buick 6, sets out an early marker for the evening. However, even knowing that Williams is still recovering from the effects of the stroke, it was still a shock to see her requiring a supporting arm from one of her road crew as she slowly walked towards centre stage. Happily, all concerns immediately disappeared as soon as she sang the opening line. She has the perfect voice for the genre. Sweet enough to break any heart when she wants to, fierce enough to strip paint if she needs to, but always with that edge of ache, leaving you no doubt that she can feel every word she sings. She was wearing a T-shirt that said ‘File Under Rock’. Her voice rocks.
After recounting the next song’s tragic backstory, the suicide of an old family friend, Williams and the band stormed into a muscular version of ‘Pineola’, one of her very best songs. With Williams still unable to play guitar, Doug Pettibone has rejoined Buick 6 adding his superb guitar and pedal steel playing to the set. Drummer Butch Norton and bass-player David Sutton are both excellent, but the interplay between guitarists Pettibone and Stuart Mathis was sublime. In a 40 year career, I can’t believe she’s ever had a better sounding band. They all rocked.
Williams delivered a great set, pulling out songs from across her back catalogue. The opening chords of ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road‘ were met with rapturous applause but many of the newer songs from her last album, ‘Good Souls Better Angels’ sounded every bit as special, underlining the remarkable consistency she’s managed to achieve across a long career. She talked warmly and engagingly about her past life, her fast approaching 70th birthday, and her influences and friends: Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen singled out in particular. Songs of protest recounting great injustices were mixed with aching songs of loss and grief and love. By the time she got to the last song in her set the audience couldn’t have asked for anything more. But after a standing ovation and thunderous applause, Williams returned for a couple of stunning encores, immediately launching into an exquisite version of The Velvet Underground’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes‘. From the moment she walked on stage, Williams seemed to grow stronger from song to song, and powered by some furious rocking and blistering playing from the band, she finished up with a slash-and-burn stomp through Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ in the Free World‘ that saw her making her way across the stage, with her weakest arm raised high, punching the air as she encouraged the crowd to sing along.
Lucinda Williams is better than ever, and what could be better than that. File under rock.
The show opened with a set from California’s LA Edwards. Originally a solo project for Luke Edwards, his two brothers now have more involvement and the band gigs as a 5-piece. They are good musicians, they’ve got some fine songs and they’ve got the very polished performance of a band that gigs a lot. They’ve a big LA-style sound, with those excellent harmonies that siblings seem to do best, and it’s all delivered with a roots-rock feel that owes a lot to the likes of Tom Petty and Jason Isbell. Perhaps it might have been the Celtic Connections backdrop that brought Scotland’s own Runrig to mind but, whatever it was, the LA Edwards set certainly earned a warm reception from the audience.
Thanks to Marc Marnie for the excellent photography. www.marcmarnie.com