Lucinda Williams is an Americana maverick. Writing and performing since the Seventies, she has earned her three Grammy awards and the admiration of artists from Elvis Costello to Emmylou Harris. But her brand of ragged alt-country folk has never really slotted neatly into the distinct brackets laid before her.
Williams was universally hailed as a major talent by both critics and fellow musicians. But it took quite some time for her to parlay that respect into a measure of attention from the general public. Part of the reason was her legendary perfectionism: Williams released records only infrequently, often taking years to hone both the material and the recordings thereof. Plus, her early catalog issued on smaller labels that agreed to her insistence on creative control but didn’t have the resources or staying power to fully promote her music. Yet her meticulous attention to detail and staunch adherence to her own vision were exactly what helped build her reputation.
When Williams was at her best, even her simplest songs were rich in literary detail, from her poetic imagery to her flawed, conflicted characters.
Her singing voice, whose limitations she readily acknowledged, nonetheless developed into an evocative instrument that seemed entirely appropriate to her material. So if some critics described Williams as “the female Bob Dylan,” they may have been oversimplifying things (Townes Van Zandt might be more appropriate), but the parallels were certainly too strong to ignore.
Williams has released 13 studio albums over the course of her five-decade-long career. She began with her 1979 covers album Ramblin’. Williams has been nominated for 15 Grammys over her career. These include wins for Best Contemporary Folk Album (Car Wheels on a Gravel Road) and Best Country Song. In 2017, Williams re-recorded her 1992 LP This Sweet Old World to celebrate that album’s 25th anniversary.
This song became a chart-crossing hit – peaking at #4 on the Country chart, #57 on the Hot 100 and #11 on US Adult Contemporary – when Mary Chapin Carpenter covered it for her Come On Come On album in 1992, four years after its initial release on Lucinda Williams’ eponymous album. Carpenter’s version earned Grammy Awards for Best Country Song – also giving Williams her first Grammy as a songwriter – and Best Country Female Vocal Performance.
The success of this song brought welcome attention to Lucinda. She packed up for Nashville and bought a house and a car. While the move didn’t bring her everything she thought it would, it did inspire her work. Her experience “living in Nashville for years and having religion stuffed down my throat every day” inspired “Atonement”. The song is from her 2003 album World Without Tears.
Lucinda wrote this song when she moved to Los Angeles with her boyfriend, Clyde Woodward, in 1984. In what she calls a “burst of creativity,” she also penned “The Night’s Too Long”. Most of the songs for her Rough Trade album within that first year be included. Clyde moved back to Texas after their breakup. A few years later and died from cirrhosis of the liver in 1991. Lucinda remembered him in her song “Lake Charles.”
Have fun watching Lucinda William’s awesome performance of Passionate Kisses. At the end of this article, you can also view Mary Chapin Carpenter’s rendition of the song.
A memoir to look forward to
Williams announced in February, that she will explore her life and music in an upcoming memoir.
The still-untitled autobiography will be due out in 2020. Henry Holt and Company take the publishing rights to it. The memoir will chart the singer’s life and career from her Louisiana childhood to her Grammy-winning success.
It will explore the genesis of her deeply personal catalog. Expect it to be filled with a blend of rock, folk, country, blues and gospel stemming from her southern roots.
“I have a lot to say and a big story to tell,” Williams said in a statement. “I want everyone to know what’s behind the songs and to know more about me than what people previously thought they knew. It’s time to tell my truth.”
The terms of the deal for the yet-to-be-titled book were not disclosed.
It’s still a special song for Williams and never fails to put her in a sentimental mood. “I always get a little choked up when I talk about it, because I was so young and more naïve then, and Mary was already a star, really. It was my first Grammy, and it just really started everything for me. When I get to the line ‘It’s my right,’ all the women in the audience yell out and go nuts. I love it.”
Lucinda Williams, The Carpenters