Lucinda Williams

City Winery / New York City, NY

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Photos by Kyra Kverno

On Sunday night, a sold-out City Winery was filled with a well-heeled, responsive crowd for Lucinda Williams, backed by her band Buick 6, which began the evening with an instrumental set, playing songs from their newest release, Plays Well With Others. A little Dire Straits, married with a Dick Dale-ish virtuosity and a sprinkle of jazz, the talent and technique was apparent. There were ambient, lush harmonies by Stuart Mathis on guitar and David Sutton on bass, combined with a great rhythmic foundation laid by drummer Butch Norton. The Buick 6 trio set the tone for a night of expansive and hard-driving roots music, led by the raw and powerful Lucinda Williams.

The group’s approach to the night seemed to be one of economy. Nina Simone said, “Don’t put nothin’ in it, if you don’t feel it.” That mantra was exercised in the tight, neat set delivered by Lucinda and her trio. Extra banter was kept to a bare minimum, leaving more time for the music, which suited her audience just fine. They came for straight-ahead, unflinching truth, and that’s what they received. The mood was one of greeting an old friend who knew all your secrets. Even when the band stretched out for solos and breaks, it was a controlled cacophony, one that in the hands of lesser musicians could’ve easily devolved into an old school musical circle jerk.

Williams’s wide vibrato and world weary voice could make you think of Willie Nelson, but you didn’t really need any comparison. With “Protection” at the top of the set, she earned our trust, with “Can’t Let Go,” we settled back in our seats, confident we were in the right place. When she began singing you were in New York. When she finished the seemingly textbook 12 bar blues, “West Memphis,” we were practically wiping the West Memphis dust out of our eyes.

The difference between a Lucinda Williams set and other singers of similar mettle is a commitment and a confidence that comes from years of doing it her way. Her arrangements may be country/blues/folk, but that voice, that delivery is much closer to punk. She isn’t here for you. If you get it, great, but she’s not going to dumb it down for you. There are no happy endings, no neat resolutions on her journey. It’s unapologetic and raw, and complete. Where punk takes a left at self-consciousness, Williams takes a hard right, and we’re grateful for the detour.

The fact that she was greeted by a dedicated crowd was no shocker for any die-hard devotee of Ms. Williams. Nor would the story of her slow burning ascent to revered cult status remain a mystery to anyone for whom this show may have been their first.

– Amanda Khiri

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