This 1988 classic was Lucinda Williams’ third album, but it might as well have been her debut. The self-titled set put her on the singer/songwriter map with near unanimous critical acclaim as she captured the essence of her influences in blues, folk, Cajun and country, distilling them into 11 magnificent originals and one significant cover. This 25th anniversary reissue returns the archetypal recording back into print (after being unavailable for a decade). Better yet, it’s now in remastered audio from original tapes that had been lost for 20 years. Additionally, a second 72 minute disc of 20 tracks, all but one live from the period, 14 of which are previously unreleased, is included. A 20-page booklet with rare photos, quotes from Lucinda and full credits also includes two essays that provide enlightening details of how the record, originally released on the American imprint of the UK’s Rough Trade label with a budget of 18k, came into existence. Only the absence of the demos of these songs, referenced in the notes, that featured The Band’s Garth Hudson and NRBQ’s Terry Adams, prevent this from being perfect.
The hits — “Passionate Kisses,” “Changed the Locks,” and “Crescent City” –may have been made popular through other’s versions (Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tom Petty, Emmylou Harris), but Williams’ remain definitive. A well-known perfectionist, it took her eight years to craft and release these tunes that fly by in just under 40 minutes. Every one is a gem, from the swampy ballad “Abandoned” to the easy country lope of “Am I Too Blue” as Williams’ darkly tinged, lived in voice recounts often melancholy tales of lost love attached to melodies that flow effortlessly and remain as fresh as they sounded a quarter century ago. Some such as “Crescent City” are clearly autobiographical but all feel personal and reflect the singer’s uncanny ability to get into the heads of her characters like few others. The subtle folk/blues vibe that runs under the surface is revealed on the album’s closing Howlin’ Wolf cover of “I Asked for Water (He Gave Me Gasoline)” in a stark, tough performance that makes you understand how closely Williams identifies with this music.
The second disc’s concert and extra tracks are icing on the cake. The live show captures Williams in her natural element with a great band featuring co-producer Gurf Morlix on guitar. One studio rarity with Taj Mahal on guitar and harp, recorded in 1983 is especially tasty blues.
This is the first title on Williams’ own label—a new album is due in mid-2014 — and is essential listening for every Lucinda fan and anyone even tangentially touched by her timeless music.