Lucinda Williams doesn't use the bright lights of a big city to find inspiration for
her well-crafted folk songs. Instead, the singer/songwriter turns to the rural
landscape of her native Louisiana and the mundane events of daily life that
often sail by unnoticed.
"I like to try to take a slice of life and describe it and make it interesting ... in the
same way poets do when they write," said Williams, 45, daughter of acclaimed
poet Miller Williams.
Slices of life -- her life -- abound on her fifth LP, Car Wheels on a
Gravel Road. Slated for a June 30 release, the album finds Williams
plumbing her own experiences to build foundations for such songs as "Lake
"An old boyfriend of mine I was involved with for about four years died ... and I
wanted to somehow touch on that, but also just kinda try to show a little
something about him," Williams said about "Lake Charles" as she discussed the
new album in the Los Angeles offices of Mercury Records.
She decided to depict the town of Lake Charles, La., in her song "as a way of
[creating] atmosphere. [When you write] 'driving in a yellow El Camino' -- not
just driving in a car, but what kind of car -- those things make a difference. What
you're listening to on the radio, what kind of car you're driving, what town you're
in ... you got to get it all in there to make it interesting."
Williams' gritty folk-rock tunes frequently turn to visual imagery as a way of
bringing songs to life. Her lyrics are rooted in the physical world, as in the lines
"Cotton fields stretching miles and miles/ Hank's voice on the radio/ Telephone
poles, trees and wires fly on by." It's as if Williams takes the listener by the arm
into her musical landscape.
"[Poets] might write about a car wreck they saw on the side of a road, or a cat
sitting in a window," Williams said. "They just describe things, and it's always
done in poetry. No one ever questions it. I'm really just approaching things in a
That approach has -- since Williams released her debut LP, Ramblin', in
1979 -- won her the approval of a cult-size contingent of ardent admirers -- a
group that happens to include a hefty number of fellow artists. Over the years,
Williams has watched as the likes of Tom Petty, Patty Loveless, Emmylou Harris
and Mary-Chapin Carpenter have covered her material. Carpenter's rendition of
HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Williams,_Lucinda/Passionate_Kisses.ram ">"Passionate Kisses"
">"Passionate Kisses"(RealAudio excerpt of Williams' version) won
Grammys for both women in 1994.
Williams' own career as a recording artist hit a snag when she embarked on the
creation of her new disc. A slice-of-life tale all its own, the making and
scheduling of the record stretched out to a full six years from the release date of
her previous album.
The tracks themselves came together over a period of years, Williams said. Two
of the songs, "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" and "Metal Firecracker," rattled
around in the back of her mind as sentence fragments or riffs before they gelled
into complete compositions during her time alone on the road.
"I write a lot when I'm on the road," she said. "There's something about being
still and being quiet and getting away from the phone. I get inspired a lot when
I'm traveling ... when I'm in motel rooms by myself.
" 'Car wheels on a gravel road' ... I had that line in my head for years, and it
finally just came together," she said. "I had a little riff for 'Metal Firecracker,' and I
came up with the chorus while I was on the road in '92. I came up with the
verses late one night in a Nashville [Tenn.] motel room."
Contributing to the holdup of the album's release were a change of labels and a
switch of producers, from alt-country king Steve Earle to Roy Bittan (Bruce
Despite Earle's departure from the role of album producer, Williams praised his
guitar work on Car Wheels. "Steve plays great rhythm guitar with a real
edge to it," she said. "He leans into it this way that the band really picked up on."
Another player on the album sessions was guitarist Bo Ramsey, 46, who went
into the studio cold, not having heard any of the music. Ramsey wound up
lending leads to "Can't Let Go" and "Joy" and, afterward, signing on for
Williams' current concert tour.
"Well, it was a really kind-of unique situation," Ramsey said. "A lot of the tracks
had been cut. I just happened to be in town in Nashville, kinda vacationing, and
I didn't have any equipment or anything. Lucinda said, 'There's gear there' ...
They just said to go in and play. I'd never heard the songs, and I didn't even
have a guitar. I tried to play something that made sense with what was being
Ramsey said the new album was worth the wait. "I know she spent a lot of time
making this new record," he said. "I really feel ... it's her best work, and I'm very
honored to be a part of supporting it."