Category: Lucinda Williams

Covered In Folk: Lucinda Williams
(16 covers from Ben Folds, Kaiser Cartel, Mary Lou Lord and more!)

February 2nd, 2011 — 02:32 pm

Lucinda Williams is surely better known – or at least more easily recognized – for her ragged heartbroken delivery and emotional way with a guitar than her songbook per se. But as we noted back in May of 2009, when we featured her interpretations of other peoples’ songs, it wasn’t always the case: her first Grammy win was as a songwriter, for Mary Chapin Carpenter’s 1992 performance of Passionate Kisses.

In many ways, of course, Williams’ is an unusual path towards stardom: though her 1979 debut album, comprised of all covers and traditional blues numbers, got her started on the road to success, its follow-up, Happy Woman Blues, which featured her original compositions, sold poorly, prompting an eight year hiatus from the recording industry while she built up her reputation slowly through performance, struggling to refocus her work and reinvent herself while she learned to depend on her live sets for her bread and butter.

In a world where out-of-the-gate albums so often define an artist’s trajectory, Lucinda Williams prefers to let her work mature slowly – a deliberate process which has often kept her out of the public eye during the long gap between albums, save for frequent appearance on other artists’ recordings as collaborator, and as a regular performer on tribute albums – and most agree that her best albums and songs have come later in her career. The coverage confirms it, clustering around late nineties breakthough Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, though Changed The Locks, which garnered radioplay around the country when it was first released in ’88, whetting our appetite for what would become a powerhouse career straddling folk, country, and alternative lines, also had no small success in the hands of both Tom Petty and, more recently, in Kasey Chambers’ live sets.

Having said it before, I’ve less to say this time around, though you’re encouraged, as always, to head back in time to check out our original post on Lucinda as channeler of song, a portrait of the artist in evolution. Enjoy the set, and the tribute.

  • Duane Jarvis: Still I Long For Your Kiss
    A tender, bluesy alt-country guitar ballad from an undersung West-coast country-rocker. Jarvis, who died of colon cancer at age 51 in 2009, actually cowrote this song with Lucinda, releasing his own take three years after Car Wheels hit the road.
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter: Passionate Kisses
    The obvious choice, AAA radio-ready and heavily rock-influenced; a double-Grammy winner, for performance and song, and you can hear why. Oh, Mary – we’re long overdue for a feature, aren’t we?

Looking for more Lucinda? Check out her newest project, a collaboration with Ray Davies which reimagines 1970 ballad A Long Way From Home, on See My Friends, an album of classic Kinks songs redone with special guests from Metallica to Mumford & Sons.

1,047 comments » | Covered in Folk, Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams Covers:
Robert Johnson, Nick Drake, Hank Williams, AC/DC, Tom Waits & more!

May 20th, 2009 — 04:31 pm

More than almost any artist today, Lucinda Williams exemplifies just how fluid the line which separates the various American forms of modern music can be. Claimed as alt-country by the country crowd, and a folkrock crossover by most modern radioplay, in thirty years, ten studio albums and the longest list of guest appearances this side of Emmylou, her work been nominated for Grammys in the Rock, Pop, Country and Folk categories, and won in all but Pop.

But though her more recent work is an true amalgam of all these styles and more, singer-songwriter Lucinda didn’t get her start as a country girl or a pretender to the popcharts. Her first two albums, released on Smithsonian Folkways in 1979 and 1980, were throwback folkblues, raw and rootsy; the first, Ramblin’, a set of warm acoustic old-school covers from the likes of A.P. Carter and Robert Johnson, the second a set of originals that showed lyrical promise, but stalled at the gate of commercial sales.

1993 would find Lucinda winning her first Grammy, for penning Mary Chapin Carpenter hit Passionate Kisses. Her two subsequent recordings got plenty of play in my father’s house during the late eighties and nineties, but then, he’s a collector. But most audiophiles agree with Nelson: it is her fifth album, 1998′s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, which marks the pinnacle of her sound — torn, wailing popblues with rock production dynamic; mournful ballads that cut to the heart like a rusty piano wire — bringing her her first gold album, the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and the recognition she deserved after 20 years of reinvention.

In the decade since Car Wheels was released, Lucinda Williams has made her way through the cultural consciousness like a standard-bearer. And, as a future post exploring her songbook will surely demonstrate, others of talent, too, have been affected by those songs enough to make them their own.

But today is first and foremost about Lucinda’s voice and method, not her songwriting. And it is fair to say that even as her voice mellowed into that gorgeously worn rasp, and her genre designation evolved like a personal odyssey through the evolution of American music, the one consistency throughout Lucinda’s career has been the authenticity of the work itself, and the conviction that performance matters.

She is known to be a perfectionist — this is a woman who is known for re-recording the same album several times before letting it go. She is prolific on the tribute album circuit in between records, and when she picks a song to cover, she brings it the same attention, the same determination to find the truth of the song.

The result, more often than not, is magic.

As a grand collection, Lucinda’s life’s work in interpreting other artists’ songs is an opus in itself, one which follows her own path as an artist. From her sunnier, gentler early work interpreting the long-gone greats of the blues and country world to mid-career takes on the great sixties and seventies folk canon to more recent coverage of rock gods and the kings of contemporary folkworld, the thread which unites them is neither voice or approach, but something less tangible — something authentic, be it raw or flowing, drawn out from the original song’s emotional core.

Their gems are too numerous to count. Today, a few personal favorites, compiled into a chronology in coverage.

Many of today’s tracks come from solid tribute albums; I can’t speak to the country comps, but coverlovers with an ear for contemporary folk-slash-americana are strongly encouraged to track down the Greg Brown, Kate Wolf, and Gram Parsons tributes via the artist- and label-centric links above.

And of course, Lucinda Williams is an essential part of any true audiophile’s collection. Folkfans without their own well-worn copy of both Car Wheels on a Gravel Road and Lucinda Williams can remedy the situation here.

Previously on Cover Lay Down:

1,499 comments » | Lucinda Williams

Gender Gaps: Laura Cantrell covers New Order, Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello, John Prine et. al.

August 6th, 2008 — 12:33 pm

Photo by Ted Barron, stellar photographer and bloghost

Let Us Now Praise Famous Women, countryfolk artist and long-time WFMU radio host Laura Cantrell‘s guest post over at Boogie Woogie Flu decrying the dearth of female artists in the Country Music Hall of Fame, is a masterstroke on many levels: a good read, an earnest critique of gender bias in country world, and a great dissolution of the usual dichotomy between blogger and performer which can only lend further blogcred to the big and well-deserved buzz that Cantrell enjoyed for her most recent release, the digital-only covers EP Trains and Boats and Planes, a fine, well crafted country/folk/pop album with solid nods to a wide variety of songwriting greats, and undertones of Iris Dement, Lucinda Williams, and even a touch of Kathleen Edwards in performance.

In the folkworld, the issue of gender difference is actually much more subtle, and it drifts as generations go on. For example, musician and folk chronicler Scott Alarik, in his seminal exploration of the modern folkworld Deep Community, makes a good case for an anti-male bias in the crossover potential of that particular section of the singer-songwriter folkworld which has long been his focal point; as evidence, he notes how metorically the female Fast Folk artists of the eighties rose to pop prominence, while their male contemporaries, such as John Gorka, Bill Morrissey, Greg Brown, and Cliff Eberhardt, seem to have hit a wooden ceiling that keeps them on coffeehouse and festival stages at the peak of their career.

But it also true that, in order to rise to such prominence, artists from Shawn Colvin and Suzanne Vega to, more recently, pop-folker Kathleen Edwards and on-the-cusp country star Lori McKenna had to crank up the pop production value — a move that some have decried as leaving the folkworld behind for the trappings of top 40 radio. Alarik’s premise is muddied by the easy target: crossover appeal is no confirmation of core values within a genre.

And what Scott sees in his generation may not be true of all iterations of folk, either. If you ask the average passerby to name ten folk artists, they’ll tend to start with Dylan and Guthrie, but from there, the common fan’s history of sixties folk is full of names of both genders, from Judy Collins to Joni Mitchell. As I mentioned in the comments to Laura’s entry, the rich crop of name-brand women performing on the countryfolk line over the last few decades — Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, even Allison Krauss — gives hope to a new generation even as it decries the easy, central categorization that best provides potential entry to a Hall of Fame. The newest folk movements seem heavy with female singer-songwriters, but it remains to be seen what fame and fortune will bring to their careers. And, of course, folk has no equivalent hall of fame — which means no gatekeepers, and thus a much less easily identifiable pattern of bias.

Laura’s insider report is highly credible as a condemnation of the Country world, though — and it is only lent credence by her early career as a guide to those same hallowed halls where the portraits of Country music’s Hall of Fame line the walls. But it also stands as a more general statement about bias in singer-songwriter forms, inviting us to look more deeply into our own responsibility, as fans and flamekeepers, for the way we frame the relationships between our musical icons, and ourselves. Laura deserves props for reminding us that, as long as the past continues to matter to how we define the present, which portraits hang in the halls of our memory palaces and institutions matters greatly. Here’s the songs of a few artists both living and long-gone which Laura herself has paid tribute to over a decent decade or more of increasingly confident, dynamic, and adept countryfolk.

Laura Cantrell’s new album Trains and Boats and Planes, which includes covers of artists from Burt Bacharach to John Hartford, is available at the usual digital download sources. Head to Laura’s homepage, for some sweet downloads; link from there to the EP, and Laura’s excellent past recordings as well.

You can hear Laura’s radio show The Radio Thrift Shop most Wednesday mornings live on NYC institution WFMU from 6-9; archived streams are available at the link above. And, if you’re in or around the Big Apple –a surprisingly significant hotbed for countryfolk these days — Laura will also be presenting a special “Let Us Now Praise Famous Women” revue at The Spiegeltent in NYC on Tuesday, August 19, featuring guest artists Jenny Scheinman, Megan Hickey (Last Town Chorus), Fiona McBain (Ollabelle), Theresa Andersson and a special performance by Rodney Crowell. Let me know, if you go.

Today’s bonus coversongs have major street cred:

  • Billy Bragg and Wilco arranged When The Roses Bloom Again for their first Mermaid Avenue album, thinking it was a Guthrie original

  • Iron and Wine’s treatment of New Order’s Love Vigilantes is thick and full of atmosphere, but we’d expect nothing less
  • (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding songwriter Nick Lowe covers Elvis Costello’s Indoor Fireworks

    Thanks to Boogie Woogie Flu for soliciting Laura’s thought-provoking piece, and Setting the Woods on Fire for calling it to my attention. Head on over to the former for choice cuts from some classic undersung female country artists, and the latter for a few great originals from Cantrell herself.

  • 752 comments » | Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello, Iron and Wine, John Prine, Laura Cantrell, Lucinda Williams, Nick Lowe

    Why Do I Love Hank? Country coverfolk with today’s guest host: Paul

    July 25th, 2008 — 10:41 am

    My name is Paul and I usually blog over at Setting The Woods On Fire. Boyhowdy has been kind enough to let me say a few words here while he enjoys a vacation. As you might have guessed from the title of my blog, I’m a big fan of Hank Williams. I also love cover songs.

    Cover songs are fun because they help you separate the song from the performance. Do I love Hank because of the songs he wrote and poularized? Or do I love Hank because of the way he performed them? I’m sure it’s a bit of both, but listening to covers of Hank is a good way to understand what makes Hank’s records so special.

    Except for the Dylan tune, the tracks featured here are new to me. Boyhowdy thought it might be interesting to see how a Hank fan would respond to folky covers of Hank’s work. Some I liked a lot. Some not so much.

    I’ll start with Cold Cold Heart by Norah Jones. This one should generate lots of interest, as it’s one of Hank’s best compositions performed by popular singer. While Norah undoubtedly has a great voice, I’m not sold. I hear it more as a musical exercise than as an emotional plea from a frustrated lover. Lesson: I love Hank because he really sells a song.

    Norah Jones, Cold Cold Heart (H. Williams)
    (from Come Away With Me)

    Since I wasn’t so nice with the first one, let’s move on to my favorite song in this batch of Hank covers, a brilliant medley of Wedding Bells and Let’s Turn Back The Years performed by John Prine and Lucinda Williams. I love everything about this recording. Hank did not write Wedding Bells but it sounds just like something he could have written, which is shown by how seemlessly this “medley” fits together. John and Lucinda do a nice job selling the song without over-singing. Not surprising, considering their talents. (Of course, it might just be the peddle steel guitar that so warms my country-loving heart on this piece.)

    John Prine & Lucinda Williams, Wedding Bells/Let’s Turn Back The Years (C. Boone/H. Williams)

    (from In Spite of Ourselves)

    Speaking of over-singing, here’s a rendition of Long Gone Lonesome Blues that’s just a bit too overdone for my taste. Yodeling is OK (in small doses). Quavery yodeling is pushing it.

    Red Molly, Long Gone Lonesome Blues (H. Williams)
    (from Never Been To Vegas)

    Over-singing isn’t always bad, though. I’m not exactly sure why, but Mark Erelli’s spirited version of The Devil’s Train works well despite the singer’s affected “twang”:

    Mark Erelli, The Devil’s Train (H. Williams)
    (from The Memorial Hall Recordings)

    Another one from Boyhowdy’s batch that I really liked was I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive by Greg Brown. It’s kind of a goofy song (“I was living high until the fatal day a lawyer proved I wasn’t born, I was only hatched”), and it’s a Hank Williams’ signature tune, so it’s not an easy assignment for a cover artist. But Brown pulls it off with aplomb by playing it straight. Just like Hank, I believe Brown’s exaggerated tale of woe.

    Greg Brown, I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (F. Rose/H. Williams)
    (from Friend of Mine)

    Only one of Boyhowdy’s batch of folky Hank covers really bothered me, and this is it. The descending harmony party is cloying. And the re-written lyric about the “gay” dog just does not belong in a Hank Williams song (not that there’s anything wrong with gay dogs). Score one point for Hank’s performance trumping his songs.

    Devon Sproule & Paul Curreri, Why Don’t You Love Me? (H. Williams)
    (from Valentines Day Duets #3, 2006)

    Let’s close this post with a Hank song performed by one of the few artists that I would place on an equally high pedestal, Bob Dylan.

    Bob Dylan, (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle (H. Williams/J. Davis)
    (outtake from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan)

    I hope you enjoy these tunes. If I’m wrong about my criticism of any of the few I didn’t like, please let me know. It’s just one Hank fan’s opinion.

    Oh yeah, my conclusion from listening to these covers is that I like Hank’s songs, but I love the way he sings them.

    Prolific blogger and tastemaster Paul pays regular tribute to country, rock, bluegrass, and jazz over at Setting The Woods On Fire. He is also a founding member of collaborative music blog Star Maker Machine.

    1,013 comments » | Bob Dylan, Devon Sproule, Greg Brown, Guest Posts, Hank Williams, John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Mark Erelli, Norah Jones, Paul Curreri, Red Molly

    Just A Song Before I Go: Catie Curtis covers Death Cab (plus Eilen Jewell, Lucinda Williams @ Green River)

    July 16th, 2008 — 05:47 am

    That’s us on the treeline, there. See?

    What with weather and whatnot, the New England folk festival season only runs from June to September; it’s a pretty compressed time, rich with opportunity, and invariably, there are tough choices to be made. But over the years, the luckiest of us have found found a few sacred places that feel like home, and we wouldn’t miss them for the world.

    Which is to say: I’m off tomorrow for the farms and fields of midstate New York, for two glorious weeks of festivaling: bluegrass at Grey Fox this weekend, and folk at Falcon Ridge the following. And there ain’t no blogging from the field.

    But don’t worry, folks, I got you covered. A few like-minded and folk-friendly bloggers have graciously agreed to guest-blog here in my absence, so keep coming ’round for some great writing from the rotation. But before I go, here’s a few from the folks and fests I’ll regret missing while I’m away.

    I just received my advance copy of Sweet Life, the upcoming release from alt-folkie Catie Curtis, in the mail today, so I can’t honestly say I’ve had a chance to let it sink in. But I’m already in love with her surprisingly poppy, affirming cover of Death Cab for Cutie’s Soul Meets Body, and we’re long overdue for recognition of the enduring work of this wonderful songwriter, champion of the working class, and long-time staple of the Boston folk scene.

    Curtis is known for her vivid storytelling, especially in her ability to tease greatness out of ordinary lives, but she has always had a knack for carefully chosen, deliberately interpreted coversongs which she can truly make her own. This great cover is no exception: her guitarwork and the alt-pop production are catchy as hell, and her voice comes off all breathy and beautiful, like Lucinda Williams after a few voice lessons. Happily, the album seems to be more of the same.

    Catie’s turn on etown will feature a collaborative cover of Yellow Submarine with Barenaked Ladies, but it doesn’t air until the end of August; Sweet Life won’t drop until September, and I’ll be away for Catie’s tourdates in northeastern New England next week. To tide us over, here’s the Death Cab cover, plus an older cover of minimalist alt-rockers Morphine from Catie’s 2004 album Dreaming in Romance Languages.

    • Catie Curtis, Soul Meets Body (orig. Death Cab for Cutie)
    • Catie Curtis, The Night (orig. Morphine)

    Back when we lived up near Greenfield, MA, and before Grey Fox became too much of a temptation, we were regulars at the Green River Festival, a day-only fest (no camping) which has slowly spread to encompass three successive days of music. Previously, I’ve written about seeing Jeffrey Foucault there; the Green River also brought me my first live experiences with a whole host of amazing artists, from Josh Ritter and Gillian Welch to Carrie Rodriguez and Peter Mulvey.

    This year’s Green River Fest line-up is worth celebrating, especially for the free concert in town on Thursday night featuring Cover Lay Down favorites Richard Shindell, Caroline Herring, and future feature-post subject Mark Erelli. Mainstage shows the following days will feature Mavis Staples, Los Straightjackets, Jimmie Vaughn, Crooked Still, and the following pair of alt-country/folk femmes, who cover Greg Brown exquisitely. Green River runs July 17-19; if you don’t care much for for hard-core bluegrass, and you’ve got a place to crash in the upper reaches of Western Massachusetts over the coming weekend, you really should be getting on the road right about now.

    • Eilen Jewell, Train that Carried Jimmie Rogers Home (orig. Greg Brown)
    • Eilen Jewell, Walking Down the Line (orig. Bob Dylan)
      (more Eilen)

    • Lucinda Williams, Lately (orig. Greg Brown)
    • Lucinda Williams, Hang Down Your Head (orig. Tom Waits)
      (more Lucinda)

    Stay tuned for some great guest bloggers covering subjects from Hank Williams covers to trans-oceanic British folk rock. I’ll be back in the swing of things by the end of July, rejuvenated and steeped in the real deal, with photos of both festivals, at least one interview, and a report on the Beatles and Utah Phillips coversong songswaps just announced for Falcon Ridge.

    Previously on Cover Lay Down:

    883 comments » | Bob Dylan, Catie Curtis, Dan Fram, Death Cab for Cutie, Eilen Jewell, Greg Brown, Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits

    Elseblog: Covers of Suzanne, Rare CSN at Star Maker Machine

    May 23rd, 2008 — 08:33 pm

    Still not sure how hard to push my work over at collaborative blog Star Maker Machine, where the blogging roster just keeps getting better and this week’s theme is songs named after women, a.k.a. Little Black Book. In the long run, I’m thinking maybe an ongoing sidebar sectional would be more apropos; in the meantime, I’m particularly proud of a few recent posts, including a treatise on tone and delivery as carrier of emotional narrative in Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, with covers from Peter Gabriel and Nina Simone…and a single-shot posting on demo versions which uses David Crosby’s early demo of Guinnevere to continue our recent discussion on B-sides, rarities, and other untrustworthy remnants.

    Wanna bonus taste before you head over? Here’s a relatively recent Crosby covering Gram Parsons with Lucinda Williams on harmony, and a Leonard Cohen cover by another recently featured Suzanne. Also relevant: previous posts on Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat, female folk musicians covering Neil Young.

    And speaking of Rarities and B-Sides: you have but six more days to win Sarah McLachlan’s new Rarities and B-Sides collection, plus an autographed poster. Totally worth it, dude. Enter here.

    820 comments » | David Crosby, Elseblog, Leonard Cohen, Lucinda Williams, Suzanne Vega