After a career that’s included 18 Grammy nominations – and three wins – and the title “America’s Best Songwriter” from Time in 2002, finishing a new song is still more gratifying for Lucinda Williams than receiving critical acclaim, however lofty.
“It’s just that feeling of ‘Wow’ getting it done,” the singer-songwriter says. “It’s very satisfying.”
Fittingly enough, Williams finished a new tune the night before she spoke with the Weekly. Her southern drawl sounded like it had been kissed by sunshine.
“I’ve been writing up a storm lately,” she says. “The song I wrote last night is a pretty ballad about when people say, ‘There will always be a place in my heart for you.’ I took that idea and turned it into a song.”
On Friday at the Henry Miller Library, Williams – accompanied by guitarist Doug Pettibone – says she’ll probably play the tune in addition to a few other new ones. When it comes to songwriting, the renowned musician considers herself a “late bloomer” and says she’s come a thousand miles since Happy Woman Blues, her first album of all originals.
“I have confidence and experience now,” she says. “The longer you do something the better you get at it. I guess there are exceptions to that rule. Some people write really well for a while then they’re not able to stay with that standard; for me the opposite is true, maybe because I started later. I see myself still growing – I’m either improving or still staying good.”
Blessed (produced by Don Was), Williams’ most recent album – featuring guest spots from Matthew Sweet and Elvis Costello – proves it: The 12-track LP was nominated for Best Americana Album at this year’s Grammys and has received love from The Los Angeles Times and the BBC.
The album opener “Buttercup” – electrified country-blues about a former boyfriend – kicks off with rocking guitar and Hammond organ before giving way to more somber and contemplative material. In “Ugly Truth,” every line and every word Williams sings takes on a life of its own: “From the cradle to the grave/ You will always be a slave/ to the quiet darkness of your memories.”
Death seems to be a motif of Blessed.
“As you get older, you just see [death] more,” she says. “I’ve lost a lot of friends and we’ve lost a lot of great artists.”
Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Lucy Wainwright, who opens, has some heavy hitters on her own 2010 full-length debut Lucy: In addition to her Grammy Award-winning father Loudon Wainwright III, Eagles guitarist Steuart Smith and a former multi-instrumentalist member of Bob Dylan’s backing band, David Mansfield, also appear on the album.
Who knows – maybe Williams will be a contributor on Wainwright’s next release, or vice versa. Either way they’ll share a stage in the redwoods tonight.
LUCINDA WILLIAMS and DOUG PETTIBONE, preceded by LUCY WAINWRIGHT, perform at 7pm (doors at 6pm) Friday, June 29, at Henry Miller Library, .25 mile south of Nepenthe on Highway 1, Big Sur. $86.50. 667-2574.