Five Classic Lucinda Williams Tunes

Crescent City”

Anyone who ever grew up in a straitlaced small town along the Gulf Coast knew that if you wanted to get inspired or get in trouble, you should head straight for New Orleans. Williams lived in Louisiana between the crucial ages of 12 and 16, and this song from 1988’s Lucinda Williams captures that coming-of-age experience better than any other. When Williams sings of crossing the long, long causeway across Lake Pontchartrain, you can hear her voice melt a bit with joyous anticipation. The syncopated dance rhythms of Cajun fiddle and zydeco accordion (from southwest Louisiana, not New Orleans, but who cares?) can make you want to head for that causeway too. Emmylou Harris, who has recorded two Williams songs, cut this one for her 1993 album, Cowgirl’s Prayer.

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Passionate Kisses”

This is not only Williams’ most successful song, but it’s probably her best as well. As the third single from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s 1992 album, Come On, Come On, the song became a top-five country hit in 1993. It then won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1994. Williams’ lyrics address the common dilemma of balancing an artistic career with a personal life. “Is it too much to ask?” Carpenter sings, “I want a comfortable bed … warm clothes and all that stuff.” The folk-rock verses shift to an anthemic march on the chorus: “Shouldn’t I have all of this and passionate kisses … from you?” If Carpenter seems quite confident of getting it all on the hit single, Williams seems more doubtful on the 1988 album Lucinda Williams — and is all the more compelling as a result.

Something About What Happens When We Talk”

This is the rare love song that chalks up romantic affinity not to physical attraction but to intellectual stimulation. “Conversation with you was like a drug,” Williams sings over her slow-blues melody. “It wasn’t your face so much as it was your words.” An R&B organ figure, followed by Gurf Morlix’s unforgettable guitar hook, sets the stage for a wonderfully wistful vocal on Williams’ 1992 album Sweet Old World. In 1998, a 22-year-old Kasey Chambers recorded the song for the album Hopeville, credited to Australia’s Dead Ringer Band. Chambers later acknowledged her discovery of Williams as the spark for her subsequent solo career.

Joy”

This trance-blues stomper is a howl of protest that all the joy has gone from the singer’s life. She goes looking for it in every Southern city she’s ever visited: from West Memphis, Arkansas, to Slidell, Louisiana. The original version on the 1998 album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road was given the Mississippi juke-joint treatment with slashing slide guitar and rumbling drums. The song was re-recorded in an amped-up, hard-rock arrangement on the soundtrack for the 2013 documentary film about unjustly imprisoned teenagers, West Memphis Three: Voices Of Justice. The legendary soul singer Bettye LaVette gave the song a very funky gospel-soul reading on her Joe-Henry-produced 2005 album, I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise.

“Overtime”

This song boasts an elegantly simple lyric about hoping to recover from an ex-lover and his “sexy, crooked teeth” over time (or, as the song’s clever pun suggests, by working overtime). This melancholy ballad’s melody, though, is probably Williams’ best, a gently swinging country lament so captivating that it was perhaps inevitable that she would sing it as a lovely duet with Willie Nelson and his brilliant band on the 2004 album, Outlaws & Angels. Williams debuted the song on her 2003 album World Without Tears.