Album #23: Lucinda Williams, ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road’

I had just started this exercise when we were all sickened by the police killing of George Floyd and then turned our attention to the Black Lives Matter protest movement that quickly grew out of it. For a while, writing about my favorite albums seemed beside the point. But music is important, and it’s also important that we not keep ourselves in a continual state of rage over events that we have a limited ability to control. So — back to the list.

Lucinda Williams’ “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” released in 1998, is a near-perfect album that combines rock, country and, yes, suicide. It sounds as fresh today as it did 22 years ago. From the upbeat, sexy opener, “Right in Time,” to the evocative closer, “Jackson,” “Car Wheels” is one of those proverbial take-it-to-the-island albums.

After “Car Wheels,” I started anticipating Williams’ new albums, and listened to “Essence” (2001) and “World without Tears” (2003) as soon as they came out. There are some good tracks on both, but she wasn’t quite able to recapture the magic. Her singing became increasingly mannered, too.

But “Car Wheels” is one for the ages. I do want to listen to her latest, “Good Souls Better Angels.” And she’s on my bucket list of musicians I want to see — if we can ever get back to going to concerts.

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