LUCINDA WILLIAMS Car Wheels On A Gravel Road (Mercury)
Perhaps not yet recognised as part of the pantheon of great breakup albums, Lucinda Williams fifth album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road is shot through with the shattered shards and fragments of a broken relationship, perhaps even more than, say, Rosanne Cashs marvellous Interiors.
Opener Right In Time is practically musky with sensuality, a lonesome remembrance of a long-lost lover. Like many of these songs it has a definite sense of place the first two tracks both mention kitchens, rooting them in some kind of domesticity, cosy or otherwise , and three of the albums songs have place names for titles. The title track is naggingly disturbing; it seems like a sequence of unhappy childhood memories, shuffled like faded snapshots. 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten belies its Prince-inspired text message title, its warm, sumptuous vibe deepening as it shifts from an assortment of observations surrounding a dirty little juke joint where Robert Johnson plays guitar in the corner to a moment of looming emotional devastation. Drunken Angel, which opens with a dead ringer for the introduction to Maggie May, sounds as if it could be a tribute to or requiem for Kurt Cobain, but its subject is apparently one Blaze Foley, a Texas troubadour and friend of Townes Van Zandt. Theres a weary indulgence in her voice during Lake Charles, a vulnerability that surfaces again in the chorus of Metal Firecracker All I ask/Dont tell anybody the secrets/I told you. Cant Let Go dovetails so seamlessly into Williams own material that its a jolt to discover that its a cover. Still I Long For Your Kiss aches with unsated desire, again, whilst Joys ragged, raw defiance could be the flipside of the same tattered relationship.
The production is exemplary throughout hardly surprising with folk like Roy Bittan and Rick Rubin involved and unobtrusive celebrity guest spots are scattered throughout the album, including appearances by Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris and sometime Dylan guitarist Charlie Sexton. In fact, its a measure of the artists perfectionism that even the apparently sparse songs such as Jackson are performed by an eight-strong ensemble. Although not as great as the astonishing World Without Tears even at its most holleringest it seems as though Lucindas holding back, as if theres a sense of polite restraint kicking in Car Wheels On A Gravel Road is still something of a country rocking singer songwriting masterclass.