I want to be alone: the best of Lucinda Williams

I gave up on her after she’d drawled and slurred through a clutch of tunes written to be drawled and slurred; before the release of 2007’s West, though, she still cared about performances that traced the limits of expression within song as delicately as one of her best songs praised the lines around your eyes. In retrospect 2001’s Essence signaled a commitment to defining songs in the studio as opposed to teaching a band to punch them out. A good album anyway — at the time it delineated a romantic-spiritual languor more effectively than Dylan did in the perfumed fog of Time Out of Mind. At the moment she’s a bore. I don’t hold it against her. Call it the inevitability of early canonization.

Rangy, tough, and tight, the Lucinda Williams band caught my ear quick in 1998, the year I heard the eponymous album on Rough Trade released a decade earlier. I loved John Mellencamp’s band: the one headed by Larry Crane and anchored by dynamo Kenny Aronoff. Gurl Murlix’s jangle and curlicues complemented tunes better than Coog’s too. Even the consensus masterpiece Car Wheels on a Gravel Road offers no tunes as whipcracking as “I Just Wanted to See You So Bad” or as walloping like “Changed the Locks.” The band could shimmy too, a little (“Like a Rose” and “Am I Too Blue”). “Crescent City,” my favorite after “Side of the Road,” relies on a fiddle and Murlix’s harmonies instead of guitar for pathos. It remains one of my favorite albums.

1. Passionate Kisses
2. Crescent City
3. Out of Touch
4. Metal Firecracker
5. Am I Too Good For You
6. Side of the Road
7. Six Blocks Away
8. Pineola
9. Changed the Locks
10. Are You Alright?
11. Steal Your Love
12. I Lost It
13. Lines Around Your Eyes
14. Essence
15. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
16. I Just Wanted to See You So Bad
17. Drunken Angel
18. Lonely Girls
19. Steal Your Love
20. Lake Charles

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