One of Americana’s most unflinching voices snarls at the last three years.
Stories From A Rock N Roll Heart
Highway 20/30 Tigers
THIS SEEMS the year of the new Lucinda Williams convert, when those who have not yet heard the gospel from one of a generation’s sharpest songwriters and singular singers have every reason to bear witness. In late April, just months after celebrating her 70th birthday on a Belfast stage, the Louisiana native released Don’t Tell Anybody The Secrets I Told You, a frank and poetic memoir that doubles as a survivor’s manifesto. Survive she has: Williams topped a tumultuous-for-all 2020 with a catastrophic stroke, netting her an extended stay in intensive care and robbing her of the ability to play guitar, a constant companion since childhood. For the late arrivals, welcome to one of Americana’s most sizzling oeuvres.
Williams’ sixteenth studio album and first since escaping the hospital extends its own tantalising hooks, from title to track credits. It’s called Stories From A Rock N Roll Heart, after all, a pointed reminder of just how magnetic her literary debut was. And for one of the first times in Williams’ career, a panoply of marquee guests – her more famous peers, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, and ostensible heirs of her serrated grace, Margo Price and Angel Olsen – line up to offer talent as tribute. What’s more, these songs were written with trusted collaborators, including Williams’ husband, Tom Overby, and punk-turned-folk-rocker Jesse Malin. With a crack band, they helped goad Williams beyond lingering physical limitations.
The most poignant stories here from Williams’ rock’n’roll heart indeed speak directly to feelings of fading away or resisting such senescence. The aching and gorgeous Last Call For The Truth offers the perspective from the presumed loser in the bar’s corner booth, hanging onto old habits like a leaking life raft while the rest of the world finds a purpose. She sways sadly inside the yearning of Where The Song Will Find Me, looking for a kernel of insight to share while wondering if such channels have closed.
So many friends, after all, have gone: dancing through Rickenbacker strums and B3 purrs, Stolen Moments is Williams’ winning love letter to her late friend Tom Petty, “riding with me again”. And Bob Stinson is at the woebegone centre of Hum’s Liquor, his “lonely waltz of pain” having taken him too early. Sometimes, a survivor wonders if the light at the end of the tunnel is only an illusion.
Stories…, though, can feel like a mixtape. As it swivels between rock hymns like the Boss-backed New York Comeback and country laments like Jukebox, it becomes a primer for newcomers, not a unified statement on a par with 2020’s raw Good Souls Better Angels or the landmark Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. Still, it is a triumph that this exists at all, and Williams’ perspective from life’s tightest corners has long been worth internalising. Here, she begins to work her way out of a new one.
Stories From A rock N Roll Heart is out now via Highway 20/Thirty Tigers
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