For one brief moment, Lucinda Williams sounded like Tammy Wynette. “I love you more than this cruel world will ever know,” she sang with a wistful southern twang during “People Talkin”, a straightforward country song that casts her in the traditional Nashville role of wronged woman. But then a razor-sharp guitar solo cut in and the illusion was shattered.
The 54-year-old comes from a country and folk background, but there is a good dose of rock music in her make-up too. The genre-hopping makes for powerfully expressive song-writing. It has also prevented her from winning the mainstream audience her talents deserve. Her songs have been covered by Emmylou Harris and Tom Petty; she was named “America’s best songwriter” by Time magazine in 2002. Yet her albums struggle to scrape into the US top 20.
Her songs are littered with failed relationships and flawed men and women – a far cry from the glossy world of adult contemporary country-rock. This year’s album West is especially downbeat: it finds Williams mourning her mother’s death and bitterly dissecting yet another romantic break-up.
She opened her set at Indigo 2 with a pair of its songs. They made for a subdued beginning. The music was downbeat and slow. Wisps of dry ice dappled the stage like cigarette smoke in some forlorn roadside bar. A suffocating pall of gloom threatened to descend.
The concert perked up when Williams headed into her back catalogue. Her two guitarists came to the fore, swapping lithe solos during a slow-burning rocker, “Steal Your Love”. “Out of Touch” was an electric account of ex-lovers meeting by chance. “We speak in the past tense/And talk about the weather,” Williams sang while roiling guitars suggested a more turbulent form of estrangement.
Her vocals ranged from the cowboy sentimentality of “Drunken Angel” to the Patti Smith-style wildness of “Come On”, in which a gravelly, scornful Williams taunts an ex-partner for being useless in bed. A cover of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” betrayed an interest in rock shamans such as Jim Morrison, as did the final song, “Unsuffer Me”, a cathartic squall of guitar riffs and incantatory lyrics. Tammy Wynette’s ghost had left the building long ago.