LIVE: Lucinda Williams @ The Egg, 5/9/17
Review by Steven Stock
Lucinda Williams’ new album is called The Ghosts of Highway 20, so it’s not surprising that her enchanting performance at The Egg last month was in some respects a Southern travel log, ranging from Pineola to West Memphis, Lake Charles to Greenville. Her distinctive drawl, shaped by stops in Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Arkansas as her lit professor father moved from one college to another, makes Williams one of the most readily-identifiable singers on the folk-country circuit.
The little hitch in her voice when Williams sang, “You’re not my man, oh you’re not my man” expressed more in a single phrase than more histrionic singers convey in a lifetime. Beginning the set with a rousing solo version of “Passionate Kisses” was an effective ploy, serving as an apt segue from Erika Wennerstrom’s opening slot and focusing the audience’s attention on Williams’ idiosyncratic phrasing from the outset.
Williams’ band Buick 6 was impressive as well, with bassist David Sutton (on both upright and electric) and drummer Butch Norton reprising their roles on The Ghosts of Highway 20, while tour guitarist Stuart Mathis had the unenviable task of standing in for both Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz (who are likely too expensive to take on the road).
Mathis was at his best when intertwining with and then recoiling against Williams’ vocals, playing Lester Young to her Billie Holiday. His extended solos late in the set sometimes meandered a bit, in a manner perhaps more suited to a jam band than Williams’ understated Americana. Mathis also contributed some appealing harmonica licks to a lovely version of “Drunken Angel,” Williams’ tribute to Blaze Foley.
Erika Wennerstrom is best known as the powerhouse singer for Heartless Bastards, and she opened the evening’s festivities with a rare solo set, previewing songs from her forthcoming album. These skeletal versions had the feel of works-in-progress, but the strength of her songwriting was readily evident and undeniable. Check out her website for rough early versions of “Extraordinary Love” and “Be Good to Yourself.”
LUCINDA WILLIAMS SET LIST
Can’t Let Go
Prove My Love
Ghosts of Highway 20
Get Right with God