Lucinda Williams is rightfully renowned for the skill with which she mines her deepest pain and often fraught relationships through a Southern Gothic lens.
A blues singer as much as she is a country artist, Williams has remained a prolific creative force for over four decades, turning out 16 deeply felt, achingly personal and often transformative records.
Here is Holler's Best Lucinda Williams Albums, in ranked order.
Marking a turn back toward the blues forms she made her name on, Little Honey is the soundtrack of an artist in love with a person, with life and with music.
Highlights include a rousing duet with Elvis Costello (‘Jailhouse Tears'), the unabashedly rocking (‘Real Love’) and a cautionary tale (‘Little Rock Star’).
West is more an example of an artist writing through it all—in this case, the death of her mother and the demise of another fraught love affair—rather than reaching a career pinnacle.
Nonetheless, songs such as ‘Are You Alright’ and ‘Learning How to Live’ cut deeply and affectingly.
A reimagining of her 1992 release, This Sweet Old World updates the production values and injects added musical muscle into the project's original songs.
It's a testament to how performing songs live changes the tone and meaning of songs, if not necessarily an improvement on an already great collection of material.
Williams' first record, the songwriter set her musical compass with this compilation of traditional folk and country standards performed with accompanist John Grimaudo, who together toured the songs by Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Roy Acuff and others before recording them for Folkways Records (later reissued by Smithsonian Folkways).
An unabashedly politically-minded and dark record, Good Souls Better Angels finds Williams at her most unsparing and bluesy best.
“Yeah man, I got a right / To talk about what I see / Way too much is going wrong / It's right in front of me,” she sings on opener ‘You Can’t Rule Me,’ before going on to dissect a ‘A Man Without a Soul’ and how to ‘Pray the Devil Back to Hell.’
Nostalgia and gratitude suffuse the 12 songs on 2011’s Blessed, as Williams tells off a lover (‘Buttercup’), mourns the loss of musical comrade Vic Chestnut (‘Copenhagen’) and explores the vivifying effects of love and desire (‘Convince Me’ and ‘Kiss Like Your Kiss’) as electric guitars snarl and hammond organ swell.
Williams' second album and first containing all originals, Happy Woman Blues set the course for what would be a musical career built on blues, acoustic rock and country.
Including an early, fiddle-laced version of ‘I Lost It’, Williams' vocal delivery sometimes calls to mind Dylan while her lyrics showcase her knack for creating scene and setting.
Williams’ 16th studio release, and the first album she made after suffering a stroke, is a cathartic love-letter to the music she’s created a life from.
Containing songs co written with Jesse Malin and her road manager, Travis Stephens, the record also sees guest appearances from Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa and Margo Price, as well as a tribute to Tom Petty (‘Stolen Moments’).
Recorded live in studio with few overdubs, the 13 arrestingly-rendered songs on World Without Tears explore the pure physicality of existence, whether she’s singing about the body ('World Without Tears'), place (‘Ventura’), sex (‘Righteously’ and ‘Those Three Days’ ) or actions to take in the face of gossip (‘People Talkin’).
2014’s groove-laden 20-song effort, and the first on her own Highway 20 Records, finds Williams reaching ever wider for subject matter.
Throughout, she writes about current events on ‘East Side of Town’ and the nature of existence, like on ‘Compassion’ where she sets her father’s poetry to music and the rocking ‘Protection’.
Equally so, she delves into her stock in trade, love and relationship on ‘This Old Heartache’.
The genre-blending effort with octogenarian jazz great Charles Lloyd is unexpected, inspired and inspiring.
Lloyd matches Williams’ vocal with his tenor sax and flute as they explore new musical frontiers with the pair of musical masters collaborating on a new composition and three of Williams' older songs — ‘Ventura’, ‘Unsuffer Me’ and ‘Dust’ — to good effect.
The followup to Car Wheels On a Gravel Road was also a radical departure from all expectation. More rock and roll than country, and more simply arranged than produced.
Spare, plan-spoken and often down tempo, Essence found Williams seemingly more concerned with instinct that craft, and raw emotion than meaning as she explores lust, faith and connection.
A concept album driven by, and metaphorically on, a Louisiana State Highway, Williams vividly conjures up the back road exits, FM radio stations, “farms and truck stops and firework stands” that formed her, with world-weary affection.
Gilded with guitar work by Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz, the double-album deservedly received several accolades and award nominations.
Containing songs that were more famously covered by Tom Petty (‘Changed the Locks’) and Mary Chapin Carpenter (who won a Grammy in 1994 for her version of ‘Passionate Kisses’), Williams second album of original songs is still considered a classic in alt-country songwriting 35 years after it was first released.
A worthy definition of the descriptor “instant classic", Williams’s fourth album was rightfully heralded by critics upon its release for its fully realized story songs and direct, uncensored view of longing (‘Six Blocks Away’ and ‘Something About What Happens When We Talk’) and loss (‘Little Angel, Little Brother).
Williams’ fifth record—released after multiple versions were scrapped as she sought to achieve a delicate balance of country, rock and blues— brought her widespread acclaim for its novelistic Southern details, visceral depictions of a hardscrabble childhood and unrequited love, influencing generations of songwriters and helping define the Americana genre.
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