Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Number Seven Essence

#7 Essence – Lucinda Williams 2001

1. "Lonely Girls"
2. "Steal Your Love"
3. "I Envy the Wind"
4. "Blue"
5. "Out of Touch"
6. "Are You Down"
7. "Essence"
8. "Reason to Cry"
9. "Get Right With God"
10. "Bus to Baton Rouge"
11. "Broken Butterflies"

“All the front rooms were kept closed off I never liked to go in there much. Sometimes the doors they'd be locked 'cause there were precious things I couldn't touch.”

To use a sports reference Lucinda is a first ballot hall of famer. For many, many years she was the ultimate, “hey there’s this lady you’ve got to hear” for people. If there ever were an “in the know cult artist” she would have been the one. A few of her songs were recorded by other main stream artists who had chart success, most notably Passionate Kisses by Mary Chapin Carpenter and The Night’s Too Long by Patty Loveless. Then everything changed with the release of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, an instant hear it once masterwork. It was a long time coming and there was a lot of talk and discussion about Williams' meticulous approach to getting everything on Car Wheels just right.

I came in on the Car Wheels bandwagon, head scratching like most at how great the record was and then going backward to the rest of a stand out catalog that preceded it. Heard many times “Oh I could have told you about Lucinda Williams” from people who were in the Lucinda cult, in the know. Car Wheels made my top of the 90’s list and the follow up Essence slips right on in with its predecessor as a top album of the decade.

Essence is a different beast than Car Wheels; the best word I can come up with is luscious. A quiet, slow moving, luscious work, where all things are in service of the lyrics and the voice, that voice, oh man there is something about what happens when she sings.

Soul vs. sorrow is the theme here. The texture of it is blue but a quiet dignity and defiance and the simple act of being aware of oneself weaves in and out of the songs on Essence. My favorite song on the record and my favorite Lucinda Williams song, Bus to Baton Rouge, is a prime example.

The narrator of the story returns to a childhood home, a place that contains “ghosts in the wind that blow through my life and haunt me wherever I go.” But the fact of the matter in Bus to Baton Rouge is that the person has taken that bus ride, is trying to deal with these things that weigh on her. This person isn’t hiding; recalling these things from afar but instead is meeting these ghosts head on. I love this song.

If you’re into Lucinda she can spoil you, her stuff is so consistently good you can forget about work you haven’t heard in a while. It was like that for me when doing this list. I recalled Essence and then first had to make sure it was in the 2000’s, which of course it was. Then I thought maybe it wasn’t going to make the cut so I listened to it over again, and man oh man when I was through I knew it was an automatic.


  1. This album is simply gorgeous.

    Like you, I was new to Lucinda, and in fact, I got this one and Car Wheels at about the same time. I even saw her on tour for this album with your brother! I'm going out on a limb here, but I may like Essence better. I love how she makes her borderline obsessiveness seem so accessible, and shows the listener how everyone of us has this capacity inside. Some call it a sickness, others just call it a symptom of love. She is a master of singing in a style that lets you know that she is not just making up stories, but she has lived these songs, that these are her experiences. Like you said, something special comes out when she opens her mouth to sing.

    I'm wondering if it was just an oversight or did you leave out "Get Right With God" from your tracklist on purpose?

    This one will be on my list.

  2. Woah, this blog needs an editor! I love Get Right With God...excluded from my copy and paste, I could be in danger here (I was gonna blame Wiki but it was there)... Thanks for the heads up.

    "She is a master of singing in a style that lets you know that she is not just making up stories, but she has lived these songs"

    That is dead on, Brian says no one can sing a city name like Lucinda.. she can walk you through a place you've never been simply by the way she sings..

  3. #7 Ryan Adams- Love is Hell (2004)

    It's weird, because this was not my first RA record, but one that was given to me as a- check this out, this is more of his stuff- kind of thing, and I couldn't stop listening. Like I said in my other comment, you can feel his pain on this record, it's palpable.

    A friend of mine tells me the story about how he was working at the studio in New Orleans where this record was recording and he helped with the engineering. He said he was on the other side of the soundwall when he was recording "Wonderwall". He told me that he was so intense in the studio & then would just go out and get completely blown out of his mind. That pain of being lost is so evident in this album. I guess I can relate to that on some level.
    "She comes apart in the avalanche
    Fades out like a dance
    Crawls back into bed
    When it's over"

    But the songs themselves feel like they are reaching out for you & they need a damn hug. I've heard "I See Monsters" live a couple of times, and it was amazing.

    This record is not for the lighthearted and it's a long ways from where he is as an artist now, but I still think it's some of his best work.