Lucinda Williams

Artist's Choice: Lucinda Williams

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Lucinda Williams is really an ideal candidate for Hear Music's Artist's Choice, and this collection has to be one of the strongest in the entire series. In her own work, Williams offers a winning and sometimes complex combination of passion, perfectionist tendencies, and poetic intelligence. Similarly, her 16 eclectic choices on this disc provide the same overall balance of wit, charm, craft, and passion, with different qualities predominating from song to song and artist to artist. While many of the participants in the Artist's Choice series choose to reintroduce us to old standards which were a part of their early creative development, Williams brings a connoisseur's ear to her assignment, and while she pays homage to a few artist from earlier decades, she selects nothing prior to the '60s (with the exception of Chet Baker's version of "My Funny Valentine," which she heard in her parents' home when she was growing up). Many of her choices come from recordings of the last five to six years. Better yet, none of them are obvious or predictable. For example, she opens the CD with the Band's "It Makes No Difference," perhaps the most achingly beautiful song the group ever recorded, but one that was buried on one of their later albums and recorded after they had reached their critical peak and were no longer a hot item in rock circles. It's also quite a surprise to hear a John Coltrane ballad, "Say It (Over and Over Again)" within a collection that is predominately folk-oriented, but when Williams explains her attraction to the "sparse and moody" quality of his music, it makes perfect sense -- as evidenced by the song's emotional congruence with the rest of the program. Other treats include an old Jacques Brel song performed by Judy Collins, taken from Collins' underappreciated 1967 Wildflowers album, and a haunting vocal, "Don't Explain," by the peerless Nina Simone. Leonard Cohen's delightfully literate, wry, and poignant "Famous Blue Raincoat" is also part of the package, as is Gregg Allman's version of Jackson Browne's "These Days," arguably one of the best songs Browne ever wrote. The more contemporary pieces on the CD feature Paul Westerberg (whose moving "Good Day" was written as a farewell to departed bandmate Bob Stinson), Yo La Tengo's "Tears Are in Your Eyes," and "To Us," a bawdy, bleak and almost existential lyric penned by little-known Australian singer/songwriter Tex Perkins. Other highlights include Chuck Prophet's "No Other Love" (a tune you won't be able to get out of your head once you've heard it), and two very impressive pieces by young singer/songwriters Patty Griffin ("Mary") and Anne McCue ("These Things"). It says a great deal both about Williams' taste and her confidence in her own abilities that she has chosen to have both of these women open for her in her live concerts. Ultimately, almost everything on this CD has a special resonance and rationale to it -- the persuasive combination of emotional intensity, honesty, artistry and intelligence that defines Williams herself as an artist. You can't go wrong with this collection.

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