No one sings as powerfully and honestly about heartbreak as Lucinda Williams.
She didn’t disappoint in that regard Saturday night as the three-time Grammy-award winner brought her kick-butt, country-blue-rock fusion to the Capitol Theater in Clearwater.
The 61-year-old Williams, dressed in her familiar black shirt and jeans, pleased longtime fans by mixing standards off her Grammy winning, “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” and the 1988 self-titled, “Lucinda Williams,” re-released last year, with new songs for an album coming out in the fall.
Williams sang two songs she said Patty Loveless wanted to record but was prevented from recording by her label in Nashville: “The Night’s Too Long,” whose lyrics about a young hometown girl desiring a leather-jacketed lover who likes his “lovin’ rough,” were considered to risqué, and “Something About What Happens When We Talk,” in which a heart-broken Williams recalls a lost lover who once, “wanted to paint my picture; wanted to undress me…”
“Country music used to be so much braver,” Williams said, “when Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings were on the airwaves and when Loretta Lynn was writing songs about getting on the pill.”
It’s hard to say what makes Williams’ almost whiney, sing-song voice so compelling. Part of it is the pure eroticism of her lyrics. She doesn’t need any four-letter words to make listeners - especially men - tremble with excitement to lyrics such as ”Baby, oh sweet baby: kiss me hard; make wonder who’s in charge,” from “Essence,” one of the familiar songs Williams crooned to the sold-out audience.
Williams’ style is heavily influenced by Delta blues and her strong voice did poetic justice to a cover of Depression-era bluesman Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues.” Williams wasn’t shy about political commentary, saying James’ hard times lyrics were “as relevant as ever” today as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen.
Along those lines, Williams brought the crowd to its feet during her encore with a cover of Neil Young’s “Rocking in the Free World,” a scathing critique of American inequality.
Other favorites during the two-hour concert: “Drunken Angel,” a song written about deceased Texas musician Blaze Foley, and “Lake Charles” which harkens back to Williams’ birthplace in Louisiana.
Williams’ band, as always was tight and her voice, as she recently told Rolling Stone Magazine, is “the best it’s ever been.” The adoring crowd, heavy in the Baby Boomer demographic, clapped and whooped its approval.