Lucinda Williams “Stories From A Rock N Roll Heart”

Highway 20 Records / Thirty Tigers, 2023

With an A-List supporting cast, Williams delivers her strongest and most consistent album of the 21st Century.

artwork for Lucinda Williams album "Stories From A Rock N Roll Heart"There’s something about having to spend most of your career fighting against the prejudices of a business dominated by male chauvinism that helps builds a resilience and determination to overcome life’s obstacles that those having travelled by a much easier route would find insurmountable. So it was that throughout the first twenty years of Lucinda Williams’ career she had to constantly prove the doubters wrong, continuously told that her music was “too unfinished” and “too country for rock and too rock for country”, a period so eloquently covered in her recently released memoir ‘Don’t Tell Anybody The Secrets I Told You’. However, by 1998 her fifth album ‘Car Wheels On A Gravel Road’ would see her promoted to the forefront of the new burgeoning Americana scene, as she drew on all her trials and tribulations, shady characters, confidants, lovers and poets on motorcycles to create a musical blueprint for the new emerging genre.

Fast forward twenty-two years and, having long since cemented herself as one of the most admired songwriters of her generation and just six months after the release of the much-lauded ‘Good Souls Better Angels’ in April 2020, Williams suffered a stroke partially impairing some of her motor skill on her left side. As she fast approached her seventieth birthday was this to be one obstacle to many? Had Williams’ unique musical journey finally reached its coda?

Well with the release of her new album ‘Stories From A Rock N Roll Heart’, the answer is a defiant and resounding ‘No’. Okay, some things have had to change, for though hard work and sheer determination has enabled Williams to walk again, her ability to play guitar has as yet not returned which means nine of the ten tracks on the album are co-writes. Six of them with Travis Stephens and another three with long-time friend Jess Malin of whom news broke in the last few weeks that he had suffered a spinal injury tragically leaving him paralysed from the waist down with little chance of recovery. The poignancy of this devastating news will not be lost on Williams and will surely cut deep.

The albums opener ‘Let’s Get The Band Back Together’ immediately sets the tone, full of that rock’n’roll swagger and southern drawl that Williams’ delivers better than anyone else. Her voice is sounding stronger than ever, despite the recent health issues, displaying a greater clarity, intonation and control than on her most recent releases. Stuart Mathis and Doug Pettibone, between them responsible for much of the guitar playing on the album, bounce blues licks off each other reminiscent of late sixties Rolling Stones while the chorus draws comparison with that of Canned heat from the same period. It’s clear from the offset that this album is a celebration, a celebration of life, and of triumph over adversity as she reflects on the last twenty years in the spotlight singing “we’ve all seen the other side, up and down the rollercoaster ride”.

Produced by husband and manager Tom Overby with long-time collaborator Ray Kennedy, ‘Stories Of A Rock N Roll Heart’ boasts contributions from a stellar cast of A-listers that include Buddy Miller, Angel Olson, Margo Price, Jeremy Ivey, Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen. It is the latter pair that supply backing vocals to the second track ‘New York Comeback’ a defiant anthem of refusing to bend against the pressure as Williams sings “one last chance to do it my way”. Springsteen also lends vocal support to the title track that conjures up memories of the type of songs he himself was writing during the early eighties awash with high-energy guitar riffs and a fist-pumping chorus.

The pace does relent with slower more reflective numbers strategically positioned to give the album a balanced structure not achieved since ‘Car Wheels On A Gravel Road’. It’s here that Williams’ sagacious lyrical narrative is seen to best effect, skilfully harnessing nostalgia with sobriety on songs such as ‘Last Call For The Truth’ and ‘Jukebox’. Elsewhere she is keen to pay homage to the heroes of her youth with Bob Dylan, Patsy Cline, Muddy Waters and Springsteen all name-checked throughout the album. Two more rock legends and contemporaries of Williams are also remembered, firstly Tom Petty on ‘Stolen Moments’ and then ‘Hum’s Liquor’ for Replacements’ co-founder Bob Stinson, whose younger brother Tom is another contributor on the album, with its passing similarity to ‘Drunken Angel’ which first appeared on the 1998 Grammy wining album. ‘This Is Not My Town’ hits hard with faint echoes of another of Williams’ influences Buffalo Springfield sung with all the punk attitude that so upset the ‘suits’ who tried for so long to change her sound, closing with another nod to Petty with the final line “I’m a queen bee baby buzzing round your hive” sung with a southern swagger so synonymous with both.

The album concludes with two emotional charged numbers. Firstly ‘Where The Song Will Find Me’ with its orchestral arrangement by Lawrence Rothman before ‘Never Gonna Fade Away’ closes the album, a song that epitomises everything Williams has stood for and achieved throughout her remarkable career. More than any other album in her illustrious canon ‘Stories Of A Rock N Roll Heart’ captures and embraces all that has made Lucinda Williams the iconic artist we have come to love. Her influences, her struggles, loves and losses, her resilient fortitude and stubborn perseverance, along with those hard-earned scars all proudly on display. This album is the culmination and celebration of a lifetime’s work of one the most authentic, compelling and inspiring artists of our times and one we should all embrace.

10/10
10/10

About Graeme Tait 130 Articles
Hi. I'm Graeme, a child of the sixties, eldest of three, born into a Forces family. Keen guitar player since my teens, (amateur level only), I have a wide, eclectic taste in music and an album collection that exceeds 5.000. Currently reside in the beautiful city of Lincoln.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

4 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Alan Peatfield

Hi Graham
You obviously got the winning lottery ticket when given Lucinda’s new album to review. I’ve yet to hear it, but your excellent review has left me feeling I have already experienced a “virtual” listen! So, a 10 – wow! (Hope we don’t fall out if I only deem it a 9!!)
Hadn’t heard about the sad news re. Jesse Malin. Thoughts go out to him.

Boneshaker

Crikey! 10/10 is very generous, so I was hopeful that this would be a classic Lucinda album. To my ears, it’s pretty average, lumpen pedestrian rock’n’roll, although Lucinda’s voice is in fine fettle. Go back and listen to Sweet Old World or Car Wheels and tell me this one is still 10/10!!!