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Americana movement’s icon: Lucinda Williams talks ahead of Birmingham show

By Andy Richardson | Music | Published:

Three-time Grammy Award winner Lucinda Williams has been carving her own path for three decades.

Lucinda Williams

Her self-titled album became a touchstone for the embryonic Americana movement – helping launch a thousand musical ships along the way.

She’ll return to the West Midlands tonight to headline Birmingham’s Town Hall and celebrate her breakthrough album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road.

The record was written and co-produced by Williams and originally released by Mercury Records on June 30, 1998.

Selling 832,000 copies as well as winning the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album, the release is Lucinda’s best-selling album ever.

Car Wheels On A Gravel Road pays homage to the sounds of South America: from blues to rock, from soul to alternative country, it’s an album that defies categorisation.

To celebrate 21 years since its release, Lucinda will play the album in its entirety at her Town Hall Birmingham show, alongside a selection of classic hits.

Williams was determined to get as many people as she could who played on the album to join her on tour.

She said: “We’ll start with the album, but we’re probably gonna change the order.

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“We’re probably not gonna do the exact same sequence that it is on the album. But we’ll do the album, and then probably do some other songs after that. We’re also going to have a visual aspect to the show. We have this guy with us working on a montage of photographs and different imagery to connect with the songs.” One of them is a video I stumbled across of my dad and the three kids when we were either driving to Mexico or coming back from there. It was one of our many trips and there’s a little video of it. It’s going to be cool to add that to the show.

The record documented a difficult period in Williams’ life and she sometimes finds it hard to live through the darkness that characterised its creation.

“Whenever I do an older song, it does take me back. That’s just the way it is. Some of the songs from Car Wheels, like “Drunken Angel” and “Lake Charles,” we do almost every show. We certainly always do “Drunken Angel.” People always want to hear that one. They really resonate with people and it’s not hard to do them.

“It’s hard for me since I don’t have the same perspective as everyone else. I go back and look at the Rough Trade record [1988’s Lucinda Williams] with that same kind of attachment. That’s the one where the critics really first started noticing me. It was the first time I went to Europe for a tour. But I’m not sure why that album [Car Wheels] is the one everyone gravitated towards. But it did have a lot of narrative songs like “Drunken Angel,” “Lake Charles” and “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” that tell a story.”

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Williams says Car Wheels On A Gravel Road was different to much of her recorded output. While traditionally, her albums came together relatively easily, that was the one that was harder to produce.

“Yeah. Part of the reason it took so long to come out was this behind-the-scenes business stuff. I finished it and then it was canned for a whole year. It was supposed to come out on Rick Rubin’s label American, but he was having distribution problems and everything came to a screeching halt. There was a bidding way and Mercury Records got it, but there were negotiations in trying to get the masters from Rick. It was just more legal blah, blah, blah. Rick didn’t want to let it go, understandably. But that delay didn’t have anything to do with us or the studio or anything.

“I was overwhelmed when I won the Grammy [for Best Contemporary Folk Album]. [Laughs] That overwhelmed me. But I don’t know if I was overwhelmed by the response. I went through that initially with the Rough Trade record. That was my little breakthrough after so many years.”

Andy Richardson

By Andy Richardson
Feature Writer - @andyrichardson1

Feature writer and food critic Andy Richardson interviews celebrities, writes columns and hangs out with chefs for stories that appear across all group titles.

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