March 18, 2015

Free From Label Pressure, Lucinda Williams Makes the Album She Wants

Monday, Mar. 23 @ Georgia Theatre

Photo Credit: Michael Wilson

Alt-country pioneer Lucinda Williams is riding high on the praise surrounding her latest record, last year’s Down Where the Spirit Meets The Bone, and its accompanying tour.

“The only show that didn’t sell out was Salt Lake City,” Williams says with a laugh. “But, whatever.”

Though her songwriting is in top form, Williams credits her recent success in part to her band, which includes Wallflowers guitarist Stuart Mathis and a host of other ringers. (Wallflowers frontman Jakob Dylan also offers background vocals on the critically acclaimed Spirit.)

Williams admits the sprawling, two-disc album—a collection partially inspired by the esteemed poetry of her father, Miller Williams—is at odds with music industry trends. “A lot of people say, ‘I haven’t even gotten to the second disc yet,’ which is fine,” she says.

Vic Chesnutt was this wild guy in a wheelchair that didn’t have any kind of filter whatsoever.

The idea for an extended release wasn’t a new proposal. “I wanted to put a double album out when the West album came out [in 2007], but Lost Highway wouldn’t let me,” says Williams with a hint of indignation toward her former label. (The singer-songwriter released Spirit on her own imprint, Highway 20 Records.)

“Their reasoning wasn’t creative, as much as it was a business decision… I had to put some of those songs out on the Little Honey album [in 2008], which I didn’t want to do,” Williams says.

At 62, the Louisiana-born, Texas-bred Williams is known for staying true to her craft even when it wasn’t so profitable. “I’ve already been through the ‘breaking the rules’ thing [with songwriting] before,” she says.

And she seems to be hitting a new stride. Williams says the sessions that gave birth to Spirit were especially fruitful, and that several recorded covers will soon see the light of day. Williams lists songs by Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen and Merle Haggard as tunes that will likely wind up on her next offering.

“We were so comfortable in the studio, and having such a good time, that we were just like, ‘Let’s do this and keep going,’” says Williams.

Athenians may be surprised to learn that Williams’ ties to town run deeper than the occasional tour stop. In addition to having worked with R.E.M. equipment guru DeWitt Burton and a stint touring in the ‘90s with eccentric folkie Jim White, Williams notes that she also established a tight bond with the late folk hero Vic Chesnutt. Chesnutt even penned a song about Williams—the aptly titled “Lucinda Williams”—for his 1991 album West of Rome.

“It really surprised the hell out of me [when he wrote the song]. I didn’t realize that he looked up to me like that,” says Williams with characteristic humility.

“I first met him in Athens at the [Georgia Theatre], when he opened up for me years ago,” she continues. “I was just blown away by him, and his personality and his eccentricity. [Vic was] this wild guy in a wheelchair that didn’t have any kind of filter whatsoever.”

Williams returns to the Georgia Theatre Monday. She says she’s looking forward to riding the wave in support of Spirit for the foreseeable future, adding, “We’re really just getting started.”

WHO: Lucinda Williams, Kenneth Brian Band
WHERE: Georgia Theatre
WHEN: Monday, Mar. 23, 7:30 p.m.