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Lucinda Gayle Williams (born January 26, 1953) is an American singer-songwriter and a solo guitarist. She recorded her first two albums: Ramblin' on My Mind (1979) and Happy Woman Blues (1980), in a traditional country and blues style that received critical praise but little public or radio attention. In 1988, she released her third album, Lucinda Williams, to widespread critical acclaim. Widely regarded as "an Americana classic", the album also features "Passionate Kisses", a song later recorded by Mary Chapin Carpenter for her 1992 album Come On Come On, which garnered Williams her first Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1994. Known for working slowly, Williams' fourth album; Sweet Old World, appeared four years later in 1992. Sweet Old World was met with further critical acclaim, and was voted the 11th best album of 1992 in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of prominent music critics. Robert Christgau, the poll's creator, ranked it 6th on his own year-end list, later writing that the album, as well as Lucinda Williams, were "gorgeous, flawless, brilliant".
One of the most celebrated singer-songwriters of her generation, Williams has released a string of albums since that have earned her further critical acclaim and commercial success, including World Without Tears (2003), West (2007), Little Honey (2008), Blessed (2011), Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (2014), The Ghosts of Highway 20 (2016), and Good Souls Better Angels (2020). Among her various accolades, she has won three Grammy Awards, from 17 nominations, and has received two Americana Awards (one competitive, one honorary), from 11 nominations. Williams ranked No. 97 on VH1's 100 Greatest Women in Rock & Roll in 1999, and was named "America's best songwriter" by Time magazine in 2002. In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked her the 79th greatest songwriter of all time. In 2017, she received the Berklee College of Music Honorary Doctorate of Music Degree, and ranked No. 91 on Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Country Artists of All Time. In 2020, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road ranked No. 97, and Lucinda Williams ranked No. 426, on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. She was inducted into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame in 2021. That same year, "Passionate Kisses" ranked No. 437 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
By her early 20s, Williams was playing publicly in Austin and Houston, Texas, concentrating on a blend of folk, rock, and country. She moved to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1978 to record her first album for Folkways Records. Released in 1979, and titled Ramblin' on My Mind, it was a collection of country and blues covers. Smithsonian Folkways provides a description: "The first recordings from an artist with a gift for interpreting original blues from Robert Johnson to Memphis Minnie to the Carter Family. Williams' unmistakable sound is powerfully direct and filled with melancholy and passion." When the album was re-issued in 1991, the title was shortened to Ramblin'.
In 1988, Williams released her third album, Lucinda Williams, on Rough Trade Records. Produced by Williams, along with Gurf Morlix, and Dusty Wakeman, the album was met with widespread critical acclaim and was voted the 16th best album of the year in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics poll. It has since been viewed as a leading work in the development of the Americana movement. In 2014, Robin Denselow called it "an Americana classic" in The Guardian, while Stephen M. Deusner wrote for CMT that it is "a roots-rock landmark, ground zero for today's burgeoning Americana movement". A retrospective review from AllMusic stated "Every song packs an emotional punch line and rewards the listener each time with something new". The single "Changed the Locks", about a broken relationship, received radio play around the country and gained fans among music insiders, including Tom Petty, who would later cover the song in 1996 on the
In 1991, the song "Lucinda Williams" appeared on Vic Chesnutt's album West of Rome. The following year, Williams released her fourth album, Sweet Old World, on the Chameleon label. Also produced alongside Morlix and Wakeman, Sweet Old World is a melancholy album dealing with themes of suicide and death. The album received mass critical acclaim, and was voted the 11th best album of 1992 in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll. Robert Christgau, the poll's creator, ranked it 6th on his own year-end list, later writing that the album was "gorgeous, flawless, brilliant [with] short-story details ('chess pieces,' 'dresses that zip up the side') packing a textural thrill akin to local color". AllMusic's Steve Huey said it was just as good as her 1988 self-titled album, calling it "a gorgeous, elegiac record that not only consolidates but expands Williams' ample talents." The track "Something About What Happens When We Talk" was later featured in the Cheryl Strayed biographical adventure film Wild (2014), starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern.
During this period, Williams' biggest commercial successes remained as a songwriter. Emmylou Harris said of Williams, "She is an example of the best of what country at least says it is, but, for some reason, she's completely out of the loop and I feel strongly that that's country music's loss." Harris later recorded the title track from Sweet Old World for her career-redefining 1995 album, Wrecking Ball. In 1996, Williams duetted with Steve Earle on the song "You're Still Standin' There" from his album I Feel Alright. Williams also gained a reputation as a perfectionist and slow worker when it came to recording; six years would pass before her next album release, though she appeared as a guest on other artists' albums and contributed to several tribute compilations during this period.
Williams followed up the success of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road with Essence, released on June 5, 2001. Featuring a less produced, more down-tuned approach both musically and lyrically, Essence moved Williams further from the country music establishment, while winning fans in the alternative music world. The album received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 2002, while Williams won the Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for the single "Get Right with God", an atypically up-tempo gospel-rock tune from the otherwise rather low-key release. The title track includes a contribution on a Hammond organ by alternative country musician Ryan Adams, and earned Williams a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. At the same ceremony, Williams was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for her cover of "Cold, Cold Heart", from the all-star Hank Williams tribute album, Timeless: Hank Williams Tribute (2001). On January 13, 2002, Williams performed with Elvis Costello on the inaugural episode of CMT Crossroads. Later that year, Time magazine christened Williams "America's best songwriter", and CMT ranked her No. 36 on their list of the 40 Greatest Women of Country Music.
Williams was a guest vocalist on the song "Factory Girls" from Irish punk-folk band Flogging Molly's 2004 album "Within a Mile of Home", and appeared on Elvis Costello's The Delivery Man (2004). She sang with folk legend Ramblin' Jack Elliott on the track "Careless Darling" from his 2006 album I Stand Alone. In 2006, she recorded a version of the John Hartford classic "Gentle on My Mind", which played over the closing credits of the Will Ferrell film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
On March 1, 2011, Williams released her 10th studio album Blessed. Another critical and commercial success; the album debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard 200, and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album in 2012. It was also nominated for the Americana Award for Album of the Year. The track "Kiss Like Your Kiss" originally appeared in the HBO series True Blood, and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media the previous year. AllMusic wrote "Blessed is Williams' most focused recording since World Without Tears; it stands with it and her 1988 self-titled Rough Trade as one of her finest recordings to date. The Los Angeles Times called it "one of the best albums she's ever released".
On February 5, 2016, Williams released her 12th studio album, The Ghosts of Highway 20, and performed the track "Dust" on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on February 17, 2016. AllMusic wrote "after releasing one of the best and boldest albums of her career with Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, Williams goes from strength to strength with The Ghosts of Highway 20, and it seems like a welcome surprise that she's moving into one of the most fruitful periods of her recording career as she approaches her fourth decade as a musician". The album debuted at No. 36 on the Billboard 200, and was nominated for the Americana Music Award for Album of the Year. 2b1af7f3a8