Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
For me, this is really the apex of what Lucinda Williams does best; it’s easily her best album, and it sits at a perfect moment between her earlier out-of-her-league blues aspirations, and the progressively lazier and lazier folk iconisms that have continued to come since.
But at the point of this album, she was at a crossroads, and she nailed it.
It’s a compact, focused collection that hits the balance of minimalism and poetics dead center; she sings better than she’d ever sang before, and does so devoid of the self-consciousness that mars both her earlier and later vocal efforts (she tries too hard early on, and tries too hard to sound like she isn’t trying so hard later).
Where she really delivers here is lyrically—she achieves so much by implication, and it’s masterful; you can just feel the weight and depth of the story behind these four seemingly simple lines:
Pull the curtains back and look outside
Somebody somewhere I don’t know
Come on now child we’re gonna go for a ride
Car wheels on a gravel road
She took a quantum leap forward with this album, and whether she ever matches it again really doesn’t matter, because for one album at least, she very nearly achieved perfection, and that means she got a heck of a lot further down the road than many of us ever get.