Country Legend: Lucinda Williams

The legendary Emmylou Harris once said that Lucinda Williams has a voice that can “scrape the chrome off a trailer hitch”. We can tie ourselves up in knots trying to explain what country music or Americana is, but Emmylou has nailed it. Google the term ‘outlaw country’ and see how far you have to scroll before you find the face of a woman… in reality, the determined profile of Lucinda Williams should be one of the first images staring back at you: “I’m here to show people all the good stuff that can happen to older women.”

Born in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1953, Williams is a straight shooter who sings songs of conviction and makes records overflowing with poetry, melody and meaning. Her 2020 album, ‘Good Souls Better Angels’, was her 15th studio LP and brimming with the brimstone and country blues synonymous with the acclaimed singer/songwriter. With three Grammy Awards to her name, including ‘Best Contemporary Folk Album’ for ‘Car Wheels On A Gravel Road’ in 1999, Williams is a country music trailblazer who revels in her outsider status on the east side of Nashville.

It wasn’t always like that, though. Her first two albums, ‘Ramblin’ on My Mind’ and ‘Happy Woman Blues’, released in 1979 and 1980 respectively, were generic country and blues LPs that failed to set America on fire. Taking a break to reset, Williams returned in 1988 with an eponymous record rightly hailed as a classic upon arrival. That set of songs also contained the seminal and Grammy-winning ‘Passionate Kisses’, written by Williams, and taken to the top of the country charts by Mary Chapin Carpenter in 1992. “I always get a little choked up when I talk about that song,” Williams has revealed. “I was so young and naïve… and Mary was already a star. It really started everything for me and I love it.”

A songwriter’s songwriter, Lucinda Williams is loved and respected by her peers and has duetted with the likes of Neil Young, Boz Scaggs, Rosanne Cash and Margo Price. Her voice is the definition of country soul and that delicious drawl is almost as famous as Mick Jagger’s, if not more impressive. But it’s for her songwriting Williams is revered most – Rolling Stone named her amongst the 100 greatest songwriters of all time – and she draws on the great American novelists and poets, including her dad Miller Williams, to create a body of work that continues to stand tall.

Behind The Song – ‘Jailhouse Tears’ (from ‘Little Honey’, 2008)
A duet with Elvis Costello, ‘Jailhouse Tears’ tells the (apparently true!) story of a drunk and his mistress trying to make sense of it all. “Now I’m behind the eight ball, and you’re behind bars,” goes one of its most famous lines as this country classic works its way into your heart by making you laugh and cry at the same time. The tune is often featured in lists of ‘The Greatest Country/Rock Duets’ of all time and is a favourite of the songwriter: “As I grew and got more confident, I learned to use my limitations to my advantage,” she has said. “I just consider myself a late bloomer.”