Get Right with God (8/10/2001)
Lucinda Williams, Essence (Lost Highway 2001) - Lucinda Williams (born in Lake Charles, Louisiana) remains a force to be reckoned with. Essence is the followup to her masterwork, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998), and shows the rootsy performer to be in a class of her own.
Now age 48, Lucinda Williams has just six albums to her credit, which shows the deliberation she puts into her music. Essence is her speediest collection, one that took only two years. Says Lucinda, "That's the cool thing about this record - there's this linear thing running through it, from one song to the next."
Yet the beauty of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road was the six years Lucinda spent obsessing over it, in which she took one fully-recorded version and trashed it, only to re-record the entire album to greater glory.
Lucinda channels all kinds different elements - there's the songwriting ambiguity of Bob Dylan, some voodoo Jim Morrison, and a hint of Bonnie Raitt's honey. From the sexual ache of "Lonely Girls" through the swamp rock of "Get Right With God" to the bittersweet longing of "Essence," Lucinda Williams makes marvelous music.
Williams thinks for herself. Says the singer, "I've been called a neurotic, a demanding diva, a perfectionist. OK, I'm a perfectionist. Fine: next. What are you: mediocre?"
Lucinda works with a band that gets right with her, including Jim Keltner on drums, Tony Garnier on bass, Bo Ramsey on electric guitar, and Charlie Sexton (the former Texas guitar phenom who's now a member of Bob Dylan's band) on guitars. Also appearing is Reese Wynans on Hammond B3 organ, Jim Lauderdale on backing vocals, and Ryan Adams (formerly of Whiskeytown) on tremolo guitar on "Get Right With God."
At the core of Lucinda Williams' music lies an aching, unfulfilled need, on spiritual and emotional planes: "I am waiting here for more/I am waiting by your door/I am waiting on your back steps . . . Baby, sweet baby, I want to feel your breath/Even though you like to flirt with death."
Explains Williams, "I've been fascinated with snake-handlers a long time. I'm just an observer, but there's a subliminal connection with it all and it's my own search within. I mean, I'm just like everybody else, I'm searching . . . I've always been on a spiritual path. There are different paths, of course. Lately the path has been the Eastern religions, and I've been exploring Christianity."
Car Wheels On A Gravel Road was lightning-in-a-bottle, and it's not fair to expect Lucinda to top it. Essence is another grand achievement.
Vonda Shepard, Ally McBeal: For Once in My Life (Epic 2001) - Hearing For Once in My Life brings out the Mr. T in me - "I pity the fool."
What I pity is that For Once in My Life, the fourth and strongest entry in the Ally McBeal series, is tied to a marketing campaign with hophead actor Robert Downey, Jr., whose drug escapades got him bounced off the series.
That being said, singer and piano player Vonda Shepard displays an increasing sense of maturity and confidence. In addition to her exquisite taste in song selection, Shepard works with an A List of studio musicians: Pete Thomas (from the Attractions) on drums, Davey Faragher on bass, and Val McCallum on guitars.
The covers include a strong reading of the 70's techno hit, "Love Is Alive" (written by the Dreamweaver, Gary Wright), an acoustic reading of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" (the Bob Dylan song), and an amazingly non-sappy version of Gilbert O'Sullivan's sappy hit, "Alone Again (Naturally)."
Standing in the center are three well-selected originals: "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?" by the Rev. Al Green (1971), "When the Heartache is Over" by Tina Turner, and the inimitable Barry White on "You're the First, the Last, My Everything" (1974).
Also included are solid readings of "Home Alone" (written by Carole King), "Can We Still Be Friends" (written by Todd Rundgren), and "Chances Are," in which Shepard and Downey team on the Bob Seger song.
Maybe you thought that Vonda Shepard is just a pretty face. If so, you've been underestimating her. Look for this real talent on For Once in My Life.
Electric Light Orchestra Reissues (Columbia/Legacy 2001) - In connection with the release of Zoom, the first new Electric Light Orchestra album in 15 years, leader Jeff Lynne has dusted off four albums from the band's heyday for reissue.
The remastered selections include Discovery (1979), with its hit "Don't Bring Me Down," as well as the unappreciated "The Diary of Horace Wimp," Time (1981), the followup to ELO's work with Olivia Newton-John on the soundtrack to Xanadu, and Secret Messages (1983), the band's next-to-last album.
Yet the real gem is Eldorado - A Symphony (from 1974), the combo's fourth album, which generated the top ten hit "Can't Get It Out of My Head," backed by a 30-piece orchestra. The core band on Eldorado was Jeff Lynne on guitar, vocals and keyboards, Richard Tandy on piano and moog, and Bev Bevan on drums and percussion. Also listen for the lovely "Boy Blue," a hit-waiting-to-happen.
Each of the reissues includes bonus tracks. ELO was generally known for using all its studio output, so the bonus tracks (some of which have been released before) don't run deep; while "Julie Don't Live Here" (1981) is a fully polished studio recording, the fragment "On the Run" clocks in at only 59 seconds.
Yet there are some treats, such as a cover of the Del Shannon track, "Little Town Flirt" (with a 60's throwback sound).
Fans of ELO - a band that built from the Beatles into electronic leanings - will enjoy these clean-sounding reissues.
- Randy Krbechek © 2001
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