Lucinda Williams: Today’s Country Is “70’s Rock Without the Cocaine.”
Lucinda Williams is getting ready to release a double LP called Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone on September 30th through her new label Highway 30 Records on Thirty Tigers. The 20-song release will see appearances by Tony Joe White, Ian McLagan, Bill Frisell, and the Wallflowers’ Jakob Dylan and Stuart Mathis. The album starts off with a song called “Compassion” based off a poem by Lucinda’s father Miller Williams, and also includes a cover of J.J. Cale’s “Magnolia.”
Lucinda Williams stopped down to talk to Rolling Stone about the release recently, saying in part, “I was on a writing binge, and we just kind of got on a roll. We actually ended up recording enough for three albums. So we decided, ‘What the hell, let’s break the rules and do a double album.'”
She also had some interesting things to say when asked if she pays attention to mainstream country much these days.
Oh, God, no. Are you kidding? No. It’s not the lack of talent, necessarily. It’s just the production on the albums I just can’t stand it. There’s that guy Jamey Johnson, he’s amazing. He’s great. And there’s a handful of ’em. But I don’t know. Some of these girls now, you hear about them, and somebody says, “Oh, she’s really different. She’s really pushing the envelope and really edgy,” and all that. And I go, “OK.” I listen to it, and I go, “Really? This is edgy?”
Then Lucinda really took the gloves off.
Yeah. It’s like John Ciambotti once said: “Country music today is like Seventies rock without the cocaine.” You know? They need to come up with another name for it.
John Ciambotti was the bass player for the Bay Area-based 70’s rock band Clover, that among other accomplishments backed Elvis Costello on his debut album. Costello’s current rhythm section appears on Lucinda’s Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone.
Lucinda Williams rose into the national spotlight as the songwriter for numerous hits by more well-known female performers including Mary Chapin Carpenter whose rendition of “Passionate Kisses” won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1994. Lucinda’s breakout success was her 1998 album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road produced by Steve Earle. She has released 11 total albums, including reissuing her self-titled album from 1988 earlier this year.
September 12, 2014 @ 8:57 am
I’d say at this point it’s closer to late-’80s pop/hair-metal without the drugs, but I get Lu’s point. 🙂
As for her quote about the new female singers, I suppose people like Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, Miranda Lambert and Brandy Clark (if they’re who she’s referring to, that is) might seem relatively edgy and outspoken in a mainstream context; but to someone who’s always been on the fringes, they must sound fairly safe and even traditional by comparison.
September 12, 2014 @ 9:15 am
I was thinking the same. More 80’s, but whatever. Point is still clear
September 12, 2014 @ 9:04 am
I can’t believe Lucinda would insult 70’s Rock like that.
September 12, 2014 @ 10:14 am
More like 80’s rock without the friendship bracelets! 😉
September 12, 2014 @ 10:54 am
Let’ see – 70s rock – Aerosmith, Queen, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, etc…
80s Rock – Guns N’Roses, Bon Jovi, Poison, Def Leppard, Journey, Motley Crue, etc…
Sorry, I just don’t see it.
September 12, 2014 @ 11:06 am
Also ’70s rock:
Kansas, Styx, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Journey, Toto, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, BTO, etc.
September 12, 2014 @ 12:01 pm
I wouldn’t obsess over the era in which she chose. Let’s appreciate she was quoting John Ciambotti, who was in a 70’s rock band called Clover. That self-deprecation and identification is one of the things that makes the quote so powerful. The underlying point is that mainstream country music is not country. It’s rock without the guts and authenticity. That’s what she was trying to say.
September 12, 2014 @ 11:12 am
Equating bro-country with the pop music of any era, even today’s, would be an insult to pop. In my opinion, the incessant repetition of already shallow themes in today’s country music represents the lyrical nadir of commercial music in the entire recorded song era. I know that many here like to compare bro-country to hair metal, but at least hair metal bands balanced out their laundry-list sex and party songs with power ballads that featured both lyrical and musical depth.
September 12, 2014 @ 11:27 am
I never knew about Steve Earle’s work as a producer on “Car Wheels” before I read this article. I knew Williams fired Gurf Morlix half-way through, then hired someone else. According to a NY Times article written in 1997, Earle was one of three producers on the album.
Williams has actually recorded the 13 songs on ”Car Wheels” from start to finish twice before. In 1995, after previewing the material to rapt audiences in Austin, Tex., Williams went into the studio with her longtime guitarist and producer Gurf Morlix. The results, she felt, were ”flat, lifeless, not up to par,” so she shelved the tapes. A year later, Williams fired Morlix and went back into the studio, this time in Nashville with the legendary songwriter Steve Earle as a producer. Earle and his engineer and co-producer, Ray Kennedy, work with vintage recording equipment from the 1950’s that produces a raw, scratchy sound Williams loves. But the notoriously dissatisfied Williams and the notoriously difficult Earle (who had just been released from prison for cocaine possession) couldn’t sustain their collaboration, either. Last fall Williams dumped Earle and took her tapes to L.A., where she hired the eminently laid-back Roy Bittan, a respected producer and the longtime keyboardist for Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band. ”If anybody can get this album out of Lucinda,” says Lindley, the drummer, ”it’s Roy.”
I also found this quote from Earle about working briefly on the album on Wiki:
She also worked with Steve Earle who said of the experience that it was “the least amount of fun I”™ve had working on a record”
I love Lucinda, but I get the impression she is the most difficult person to be around. She may go down as the artist I saw have biggest profanity-laced meltdown on stage (followed closely by Ryan Adams).
Any article about Lu and country music would be remiss not to mention “The Nights Too Long” which was recorded by Patty Loveless and released as a single from the 1990 album ‘On Down the Line.’ “Passionate Kisses” gets all the cross-over glory, but “The NIghts Too Long” is one of my favorite songs from either’s catalog.
September 12, 2014 @ 11:56 am
Rick Rubin was also an executive producer on the album, which has not been very well reported.
I offered the scant biographical info on Lucinda simply as reference to people who may have never heard of her. This is far from a feature or biography on Lucinda. I simply wanted to highlight her quotes.
Bigfoot is Real (and dating naked)
September 12, 2014 @ 11:41 am
And speaking of shitty country music… Hey Trigger, any plans on addressing this abomination?
September 12, 2014 @ 11:53 am
It is being addressed. But it is unlikely anything will be addressed publicly.
Bigfoot is Real (and dating naked)
September 12, 2014 @ 12:25 pm
Interesting. The home page imagery is like a murderer’s row of stoopid.
Buena suerte amigo.
September 12, 2014 @ 2:52 pm
Hopefully a cease and desist order, or a big bucks financial settlement to you.
Let us know if you need any help.
September 13, 2014 @ 10:47 pm
Well, that site is straight up cray cray! Honestly I actually kind of like Aldean’s rap-ish tune where he’s swervin’ like Jones. I was in my 20’s during the old school rap era here in NYC and own a bunch of stuff from back then so
his “rap”is like a novelty and never bothered me. But this country rap? Uh uh. No. I watched some of the vids and they just seem like wanna be bangers from the city.
Nothing rings true and it seems forced. Sad, stupid shit. And I noticed that the site has been up since last Nov and not one person has posted any comments, good or bad. No die hards saying it’s the future. Epic fail. There may indeed be passionate fans of this “genre” but like Beyonce, they must not know about this site.
Just terrible. I’d rather listen to FGL all day…or maybe just half a day.
September 26, 2014 @ 2:20 pm
Well maybe someone should make a
I have a mission!
September 12, 2014 @ 4:07 pm
Some of these girls now, you hear about them, and somebody says, “Oh, she”™s really different. She”™s really pushing the envelope and really edgy,” and all that. And I go, “OK.” I listen to it, and I go, “Really? This is edgy?”
Boy, I wonder who she’s talking about there?
Yes, that was sarcasm. The names that came to mind were Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark. And while I can see where she’s coming from, I still don’t think it’s quite fair. Some people definitely oversell Musgraves and Clark at least, but that isn’t the fault of the artists themselves.
September 12, 2014 @ 4:57 pm
I don’t know. It sounds like she’s just getting around to listening to Jamey Johnson. If she was that up on country music (or really cared) you’d think she’d of had dropped Sturgill Simpson’s name as current artist. I don’t think Musgraves or Clark are on her radar. But I could be wrong.
September 12, 2014 @ 5:10 pm
Well she does say ‘some of these girls now’ so that would seem to imply a newish female performer and Kacey Musgraves sure fits the description she used.
September 15, 2014 @ 10:10 pm
I’m almost positive Lucinda was referencing Kacey Musgraves.
To me, the chief value of songwriters like Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, and Ashley Monroe isn’t their “edginess,” it’s their honesty.
Edginess in and of itself is overrated, anyway.
September 13, 2014 @ 7:04 am
Well, the question was about mainstream country. I think Lucinda goes for the hard stuff when it comes to country and blues. As far as somewhat recent mainstream music goes, who else is there besides Jamey Johnson that fits that bill? I seem to recall from article a few years back that she does keep up with what’s going on in the music world and that she has very eclectic tastes.
September 13, 2014 @ 7:17 am
The first name that came to my mind was Miranda Lambert, as that’s generally how I feel about her.
I’d be a little surprised if she meant Brandy Clark. For one, she’s not really mainstream. Also, Brandy reminds me a little of early-mid 90’s Mary Chapin Carpenter. If she’s heard her, I would hope that Lucinda would respect her songwriting chops.
September 13, 2014 @ 4:39 am
Speaking of Sturgill…
Just looked at the iTunes Top Purchased Country Albums and Sturgill is up to #12!
Last time I looked he was at #27.
Zac Brown fans liking what they heard in concert?
September 13, 2014 @ 6:53 am
And while he isn’t David Letterman, the Conan O’Brien appearance couldn’t have hurt.
September 13, 2014 @ 3:21 pm
For what it’s worth, he appeared on Letterman a couple months back as well.
September 15, 2014 @ 2:00 pm
I am optimistic that Sturgill can parlay his talent into both making a buck or two and continuing the high bar he has established with his first two CDs.
But I sure don’t want to see him on The Voice (I wouldn’t, though, because I wouldn’t watch it even if it had DAC and EmmyLou on it).
September 15, 2014 @ 2:30 pm
My wife watches The Voice, I’ve never seen it…
But back to Sturgill: he’s playing the Grand Old Opry on Saturday, October 25. Can always tune in for free using their app, or on WSM’s live stream.
September 13, 2014 @ 9:44 am
that quote was brutal
September 13, 2014 @ 10:07 am
“Oh, God, no. Are you kidding? No. It”™s not the lack of talent, necessarily. It”™s just the production on the albums ”“ I just can”™t stand it. ”
I understand LW’s sentiments re production because I’ve heard her stuff . However many people in the production end of the biz ( engineers ,producers tech guys etc… ) are actually big fans of the SOUND of new ‘country’ , acoustic-centric and pop records and attribute much of its current success TO that sound.
In recent years , the recording of acoustic instruments and vocals , in particular , has vastly improved thanks , in large part , to digital software and its ease of use . Even the most sparse home demo studio achieves results that often rival the ‘pro’ studios ( in the right hands , of course ). A listener can be moved by the sonic palette he/she is exposed to on a contemporary pop or country record ….from a John Legend ballad to a David Nail track to a straight-up bluegrass record ….they all sound pretty damned wonderful sonically . Now the SUBSTANCE of the record ….the lyric and melody…is something different altogether , of course , but a GREAT sound goes a long way to seducing the ear.
A lot of veteran artists do have difficulty wrapping their heads around anything that doesn’t sound ‘live off the floor ‘ or retro in some respect ..or even slightly flawed timing or tuning -wise and that’s totally understandable . They have a sound in their head they want to realize . BUT listeners gravitate towards these more polished productions..they are conditioned to them the way they are conditioned to HD television …they can actually HEAR everything on the track and though they may not be totally conscious of that fact , they are emotionally engaged on that level .
I would be surprised if the next release by , say, someone like Sturgil Simpson wasn’t a bit more ‘polished ‘ for the reasons I’ve indicated above . If you have a great song or a great player on your record …or a great-sounding-instrument , it behooves you to make it a bit more accessible to the average listener who’s become somewhat conditioned to that presentation .
September 13, 2014 @ 11:07 am
In independent music, there’s a bad trend of trying to emulate The Black Keys and make all of your songs sound old. I have no problem with warmth or vintage sounds, but 20 years from now this trend is going to comes across as extremely trendy, and listeners are going to wonder why artists purposely made records that sounded like shit, especially because they were the creative leaders of their time. I enjoy records that go for a vintage vibe and get it right, but there nothing wrong with a clear audio signal either.
September 13, 2014 @ 1:41 pm
Cobb got it right with Isbell, not so much with Simpson. But that’s to my ears, and they’re both likely happy with the results.
September 13, 2014 @ 1:42 pm
As am I.
September 13, 2014 @ 5:37 pm
Yea – the whole trying to sound old shit…is…uh…getting old. Anyone heard that pile of shit Neil Young just recorded in Jack White’s refrigerator? Jesus.
People try to chase the feeling that old records had by doing stupid shit like recording to old tape, adding noise, etc. But what made that old shit sound so great was how the music was played, more than what equipment it was played on.
Once upon a time, you had a band , and you all clicked, and you played together trillions of hours, and got tight as shit – then you went in the studio and ripped it as if you were playing a live show!
Now, every recording session starts with a click track or a drum machine. Then one by one, each rent-a-robot comes in and records their parts while the sections play on a loop. They just play the same 10 seconds over and over again until they find the most sterile take – then move on to the next 10 seconds.
If that’s how you’re going to do the “performances”, I don’t care if you record on tin-foil, Ben Franklin style – you’re not going to get the vibe you’re looking for. You’re just going to have an old shitty sound.
People need to learn to PLAY music again AS A BAND. THEN they’ll be able to get the nice warm vibe they’re looking for straight through pro-tools.
The problem is, there’s very few bands anymore. There’s just employees of music corporations. And, when you do have a real band – they rarely get to play as a band on the recording – they hire random robots to do it, then add fake record static to make it sound “authentic”…PLEASE!
September 14, 2014 @ 7:33 pm
‘Anyone heard that pile of shit Neil Young just recorded in Jack White”™s refrigerator? Jesus.’
Amen . Who in God’s name would listen to that thing twice . It’s an insult to a fan and an insult to the great writers behind those songs . And it’s unforgivable that Neil messes those songs up melodically and sometimes lyrically so badly . Its a lazy effort on all fronts .
For me , Neil is one of the most overrated writers , singers and guitar players around and has been for most of his career . I know his fans might find that statement hard to accept ….but think about it . Who , of all the folks considered the ‘upper echelon’ of singer /songwriters writes worse , more forgettable lyrics or sings more poorly than Neil ?( Vocally I’d give you Lucinda….I can barely get through a verse of her vocals at the best of times ) . Who has a more ragged band backing them up and who takes more advantage of their fan base’ patience while musically masturbating with a 10 minute guitar solo consisting of their favourite five notes and a stack of amps on eleven . The emperor’s new clothes indeed !
September 15, 2014 @ 5:19 am
Lucinda Williams’s compositions can sound quite beautiful when sung by gifted vocalists:
I know, this comment is just an excuse for posting this song again.
September 15, 2014 @ 6:02 pm
I’m a Patty Loveless fan in large part because she picks GREAT songs to record …..she’s a songwriter’s best friend.
September 13, 2014 @ 12:54 pm
Am I the only one who read that and thought that it was kinda sad that the only guy she mentioned that she likes right now (Jamey Johnson) isn’t even recording new material?
Six String Richie
September 14, 2014 @ 8:29 am
Miranda Lambert is an artist in particular I think she was talking about. Even though she gets credit for being better than most mainstream country artists, I still haven’t been too impressed with her music. Her singles in particular are really disappointing and I usually don’t like her production.
Williams was probably told that Lambert makes good music, looked her up on youtube, saw “Automatic,” “Over You” and “Fastest Girl in Town” and was like, “how is this edgy?”
September 17, 2014 @ 11:10 am
I like the stuff Miranda performed as a teenager on Nashville Star better than anything she’s put out as a major-label recording artist.
September 15, 2014 @ 2:03 pm
I love Lucinda and I can’t wait for her new CD(s) to come out at the end of the month.