Happiness doesn't stifle Lucinda Williams' muse

"Blessed" by Lucinda Williams

Story by Wayne Bledsoe
(Scripps Howard News Service)
Sun, May 1, 2011
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Lucinda Williams is a master at writing angry songs to ex-lovers, mournful ballads to lost friends and family, and songs that achingly illustrate the fear and uncertainty of opening up to new relationships. But there’s another element that shows up, especially in her new album, “Blessed,” that expresses something else.

“Contentment,” says Williams, at a travel stop in New Mexico. “That’s what I’d been hoping for all my adult life. I want to be able to have some kind of stability in my life and still be creative.”

The daughter of poet and professor Miller Williams, Lucinda began making her own artistic mark in the 1980s.

After a couple of early albums for Folkways Records, Williams got on the critics’ radar with a 1988 self-titled EP and the 1992 album “Sweet Old World.” Then her 1998 album “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” became one of the most celebrated albums of the year. She was praised both as one of America’s best songwriters and a singer who put her heart and soul into every song.

Williams is happily married to former record executive Tom Overby, who now acts as her manager. She says she isn’t “happy 24 hours a day,” but she doesn’t think artists have to be unhappy to create good work.

“I grew up around writers, poets and fiction writers and they were all married with kids and teaching college and they were all still writing. I can remember growing up seeing my dad in the ’Dad’ chair with his feet up on the ottoman and his legal pad and writing. All the daily real-life stuff all around him, like a tornado, and he was still able to do that. I was always inspired by that.”

She says her father was always a good sounding board for her work.

“His approval was always real important to me,” she says.

“Now, instead of Dad, I play everything for Tom. He’ll give me good constructive criticism ... and when he loves a song he’s so supportive. Everybody needs somebody like that.”

Williams still stings a little from the publicity that surrounded the release of “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.” The album went through several producers, studios and incarnations before it was finished and then it was bounced between record labels.

She says original producer Gurf Morlix hasn’t spoken to her since the original sessions for the album were aborted and she and co-producer Steve Earle (with whom she is still friends) were often at odds. The press tagged her “a perfectionist” -- a term that still shows up in stories about her, even though she has been prolific and she’s worked happily with several producers, including Don Was, who produced “Blessed.”

“Maybe I am a perfectionist,” she says. “It depends on the definition, but the way they say it always annoys me. They always related it back to the ’Car Wheels’ album, but they don’t know what all was going on around that.

“They’ll praise the album while criticizing the process. Like, ’It took so long, because she’s such a perfectionist.’ That’s not the way it was. And wait a minute. The album went gold and won a Grammy. If I hadn’t done what I did, it wouldn’t have been the album that it is.

“I hate to say it, but I think some of it is the whole male/female thing, because I remember when John Fogerty’s album came out and was his first in, like, 11 years. Nobody criticized it because it took him so long or said, ’Oh, it’s because he’s a perfectionist.’ Who cares?”

Williams has become so productive that it’s doubtful that she’ll spend too many years between releases.

“I’m always getting ideas for things. Really, the biggest challenges for a songwriter is to stay inspired and come up with ideas. I scribble down ideas all the time. Then at some point I’ll sit down and that’s more of a mood thing. It’s better if I don’t have a lot of other things going on.”

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