I saw on Facebook today that the Dallas Observer had a feature listing Lucinda Williams’ 11 best songs. Williams is one of my favorite songwriters and performers and, without looking at the Observer’s list, I thought it might be a nice challenge to come up with my own 11 favorites. Here goes:
“Passionate Kisses,” Lucinda Williams
Pretty much a perfect pop song, though the arrangement here (as on this third album as a whole) is a little too clean and pretty. Or, maybe, not shiny and slick enough for pop radio. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s cover was a big hit.
“Pineola,” Sweet Old World
Harrowing story-song that crawls forward into the deepest of griefs, then explodes into a howl of defiance and resignation.
“I Lost It,” Car Wheels On a Gravel Road
An oldie from Happy Woman Blues that she rerecorded with the hard rocking band that defined her sound in the middle years. The 1980 version is lovely, sounds as classic as a Hank Williams track, while this is slower, more bluesy, more pounding, like a Hank Williams Jr. track (without the cheese).
“Drunken Angel,” Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
Sneering angry rant, makes the feet tap and the skin crawl.
“Greenville,” Car Wheels On a Gravel Road
Achingly sad breakup song, with Emmylou Harris singing harmonies (on the record, not the clip).
“Metal Firecracker,” Car Wheels On a Gravel Road
Has the poppy spright of Passionate Kisses, but delivers a breakup song full of hurt and a wishful rewriting of history in plain lovely language that kicks off on an irresistible hook.
“Lonely Girls,” Essence
Simple poetic language and a subtle folky reggae setting, doesn’t really go anywhere and doesn’t have to. I could listen to this all day.
A churning insistent atmospheric punch of love, it is at this point in her career her most naked expression of masochistic surrender, except that if this is surrender I’d hate to see the war.
“Changed the Locks,” Live at the Fillmore
The studio version on the Lucinda Williams album has the bones of a great song, but this live version is loud and scratchy and a full expression of the song’s anger and defiance.
“Fancy Funeral,” West
Plain and plaintive observation following her mother’s death. More intimate for its impersonal but poignant details.
“Honey Bee,” Little Honey
A flat out rocker that sounds more like her live band rampaging through that Texas rock sound that ZZ Top (maybe) invented.
Conclusion: Many shared tunes with the Dallas Observer, it turns out, and many differences. A note about Side of the Road, their No. 1 (they ordered their list, mine is chronological) tune. It’s a fantastic story song, as the writer says, sad and yet not depressing, an evocation of being a person in something larger than yourself but not sure where that ends and you begin. I left it off my list because I’ve always found the verse about looking up at the farmhouse a little clumsy, and that’s a fair judgement perhaps, but playing it again just now I’m reminded about how great a song it is despite that. It should be on my list of 12.