Lucinda Williams is an American rock, folk, blues and country music singer and songwriter. She recorded her first albums in 1978 and 1980 in a traditional country and blues style and received very little attention from radio, the media, or the public. In 1988, she released her self-titled album, Lucinda Williams. This release featured “Passionate Kisses”, a song later recorded by Mary Chapin Carpenter which garnered Lucinda her first Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1994.
Known for working slowly, Lucinda recorded and released only one other album in the next several years (Sweet Old World in 1992) before her greatest success came in 1998 with Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. This album presented a broader scope of songs that fused rock, blues, country, and Americana into a more distinctive style that still managed to remain consistent and commercial in sound. It went gold and earned Lucinda another Grammy while being universally acclaimed by critics. Since Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, she has released a string of albums that have also been critically acclaimed, though none have sold in the numbers of her 1998 breakthrough. She was also named “America’s best songwriter” by TIME magazine in 2002.
Williams was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the daughter of poet and literature professor Miller Williams and an amateur pianist. Her parents divorced in the mid-1960s with Williams’ father gaining custody of her and her younger brother and sister. Her father worked as a visiting professor in Mexico and different parts of the American South including Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Jackson, Mississippi, and Utah before settling at the University of Arkansas. His daughter started writing when she was six years old and showed an affinity for music at an early age, and was playing guitar at twelve. Williams’s first live performance was in Mexico City at 17, as part of a duo with her friend, a banjo player named Clark Jones.
By her early 20s, Williams was playing publicly in Austin and Houston, Texas, concentrating on a folk-rock-country blend. She moved to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1978 to record her first album, for Smithsonian/Folkways Records. Titled Ramblin’, it was a collection of country and blues covers. She followed it up in 1980 with Happy Woman Blues, which consisted of her own material. Neither album received much attention.
In the 1980s, Williams moved to Los Angeles, California, (before finally settling in Nashville, Tennessee), where, both backed by a rock band and performing in acoustic settings, she developed a following and a critical reputation. While based in Los Angeles, she was briefly married to Long Ryders drummer Greg Sowders, whom she had met in a club. In 1988 Rough Trade Records released the self-titled Lucinda Williams, which was produced by Gurf Morlix. The single “Changed the Locks”, about a broken relationship, received radio play around the country and gained fans among music insiders, including Tom Petty, who would later cover the song.
Its follow-up, Sweet Old World (Chameleon, 1992), also produced by Morlix, was a melancholy album dealing with themes of suicide and death. Williams’ biggest success during the early 1990s was as a songwriter. Mary Chapin Carpenter recorded a cover of “Passionate Kisses” (from Lucinda Williams) in 1992, and the song became a smash country hit for which Williams received the Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1994 (Chapin also received a Grammy for her performance of the song). She duetted with Steve Earle on the song “You’re Still Standin’ There” from his album I Feel Alright. In 1991, the song “Lucinda Williams” appeared on Vic Chesnutt’s album West of Rome.
Williams had garnered considerable critical acclaim, but her commercial success was moderate. Emmylou Harris said of Williams, “She is an example of the best of what country at least says it is, but, for some reason, she’s completely out of the loop and I feel strongly that that’s country music’s loss.” Harris recorded the title track from Williams’s Sweet Old World for her career-redefining 1995 album, Wrecking Ball.
Williams also gained a reputation as a perfectionist and slow worker when it came to recording; six years would pass before her next album release, though she appeared as a guest on other artists’ albums and contributed to several tribute compilations during this period.
The long-awaited release, 1998’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, was Williams’ breakthrough into the mainstream and received a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Containing the single “Still I Long for Your Kiss” from the Robert Redford film The Horse Whisperer, the album received wide critical notice and soon went gold. The single “Can’t Let Go” also enjoyed considerable crossover radio play. Williams toured with Bob Dylan and in support of the album. An expanded edition of the album, including three additional studio recordings and a second CD documenting a 1998 concert, was released in 2006.
In 1999, Williams appeared on Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons, duetting with David Crosby on the title track of the tribute album.
Williams followed up the success of Car Wheels with Essence (2001). This release featured a less produced, more down-tuned approach both musically and lyrically, and moved Williams further from the country music establishment while winning fans in the alternative music world. She won the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for the single “Get Right With God”, an atypically uptempo gospel-rock tune from the otherwise rather low-key release. The title track includes a contribution on Hammond organ by alternative country musician Ryan Adams.
Her seventh album, World Without Tears, was released in 2003. A musically adventurous though lyrically downbeat album, this release found Williams experimenting with talking blues stylings and electric blues.
In 2006, Williams recorded a version of the John Hartford classic “Gentle On My Mind”, which played over the closing credits of the Will Ferrell film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
Williams was a guest vocalist on the song “Factory Girls” from Irish punk-folk band Flogging Molly’s 2004 album, Within a Mile of Home, and appeared on Elvis Costello’s The Delivery Man. She sings with folk legend Ramblin’ Jack Elliott on the track “Careless Darling” from his 2006 release I Stand Alone.
In 2007, Williams released West, for which she wrote more than 27 songs. The album was released on February 13, 2007. It addresses her mother’s death and a tumultuous relationship break-up. Vanity Fair praised it, saying “Lucinda Williams has made the record of a lifetime - part Hank Williams, part Bob Dylan, part Keith Richards circa Exile on Main St. ...”
In the fall of 2007, Williams announced an unprecedented series of shows in Los Angeles and New York. Playing five nights in each city, it was the first time a major artist would perform her entire catalog on consecutive nights. These albums include the self titled Lucinda Williams, Sweet Old World, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Essence, and World Without Tears. Since these shows, other artists have imitated this idea in different variations, but to date no else has accomplished this exact feat. Each night also featured a second set with special guest stars. Some of the many special guests included Steve Earle, Allison Moorer, Mike Campbell, Greg Dulli, E, Ann Wilson, Emmylou Harris, David Byrne, David Johansen, Yo La Tengo, John Doe, Chuck Prophet, Jim Lauderdale and Shelby Lynne. In addition, each night’s album set was recorded and made available to the attendees that night. These live recordings are currently available on her website and at her shows.
In the spring of 2008, it was announced that the next album from Lucinda Williams wrapped recording in March. The new album is titled Little Honey and was released on October 14. It includes thirteen new songs - among them, “Real Love” and “Little Rock Star”, the latter inspired by music celebrities in the press, like Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse. Little Honey also includes a cover of AC/DC’s “Long Way to the Top” and “Rarity”, inspired by singer-songwriter Mia Doi Todd.
In July 2008, though Little Honey had yet to be released, Paste magazine.com listened to an advance copy and rated the duet between Williams and Elvis Costello on the song “Jailhouse Tears” as the Number Five all time greatest country/rock duets.
Williams released a cover of Shel Silverstein’s famous song “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” in June 2010 as part of the Twistable, Turnable Man tribute album.
Blessed, the 2011 album from three-time Grammy Award-winner Lucinda Williams, covers a wide emotional spectrum than her previous work, without moving too far in any one direction. It's nothing new to see Williams tug at the heartstrings and stimulate the mind with her songs, but there is a vibe throughout Blessed that is unique to this album in-particular. It's the sound of the wisdom and experience Williams has gained through her years as an uncompromising talent. Combine that with Grammy Award-winning producer Don Was at the helm, and something special is born. Blessed features special guests Rami Jaffe on keyboards, Matthew Sweet on vocals Greg Leisz and Elvis Costello on guitar.