The Wise Blood of Lucinda Williams

The Americana songstress wrestles with her Southern legacy and familial past on "The Ghosts Of Highway 20."

That’s followed by “House Of Earth,” a set of Woody Guthrie lyrics that Lucinda adapted to new music, following the example of Billy Bragg and Wilco on the Mermaid Avenue albums. The lyrics have a prostitute in a Southwestern adobe home telling her client how grateful his wife should be when he brings home all the bedroom tricks the narrator’s going to teach him. Lucinda sings it in a low, husky voice full of proud knowledge and world-weary fate while the two guitarists suggest the prickly fear and excitement of the man being addressed.

“My dad’s text was a poem,” she says, “while Woody’s was meant to be a song, even if the music never survived, so that was somewhat easier, because the words were written that way. I had to come up with the melody and the phrasing, and I did move some words around. Woody’s daughter Nora sent me that one. I had played this music festival in Germany run by Nora’s husband; the four of us sat around discussing socialism and drinking red wine. She felt that if anyone would be able to do that song, maybe I could.”

The album ends with the nearly 13-minute-long “Faith & Grace,” another happy accident. Overby had invited two reggae percussionists into the studio, just to see what would happen. One, Carlton Santa Davis, was wounded when his bandleader Peter Tosh was shot and killed; the other, Ras Michael, leads a Rastafarian church in Los Angeles. Lucinda refused to do the obvious thing and sing a Bob Marley song; instead Overby suggested they do “A Little More Faith” from a gospel album by one of Lucinda’s biggest heroes: Mississippi Fred McDowell.

The band gathered around to hear... Sign In to Keep Reading

To view this content,

Join Today

or Sign In

The Benefits of Membership:

  • Limited-time FREE Feature Magazine Content
  • Exclusive access to members-only contests and giveaways
Click to Join

We've started a free American Songwriter membership. Click here to learn more.

1 2 3 4