New old-timer

Judging by the congregation at this sold- out performance, Lucinda Williams has

finally climbed the Mountain. Alt-country regulars and indie stragglers were vastly outnumbered by graying temples and cell phones.

There it is, infallible proof of what appearances on Good Morning America and Rosie O'Donnell (and a little radio airplay) can do for an artist who has watched singers like Mary Chapin-Carpenter and Tom Petty hit big with her songs. Now Williams' Car Wheels on a Gravel Road has won a Grammy for Contemporary Folk Album (huh?), and she is our first two-decade overnight sensation.

Lucinda Williams

King Cat Theater, Tuesday, March 2

With black leggings tucked into her cowboy boots, Williams rode into Seattle aboard a firecracker band, led by the guitar-slinging tandem of John Jackson, who looks more like a Nashville Scorcher, and the mod-coiffed Kenny Vaughn. Williams' melancholy twang proved persuasive throughout the two-hour set, a refined and candid instrument that is as much about her music as her Southern literary songwriting.

After opening with "Pineola," Williams gave the audience what it came to hear, tearing through eight straight from Car Wheels. The tour-bus tale "Metal Firecracker" road Randy Leago's sweet Hammond organ riff, while the album's title song was revitalized by Jackson's mandolin. "My dad recognized me in the song," Williams said to the crowd. "And I told him how sorry I was."

Williams provided intimate introductions for each song. "Joy" was dedicated to Car Wheels drummer Donald Lindley, who recently died of cancer. The eight-minute version smoked with Jackson's slide guitar and Vaughn's piercing solo before getting bogged down and indulgent, finishing more like a Santana jam. Irish drummer Fran Breen led the bristling rocker "Can't Let Go," which sorely missed the Vaughn guitar solo of previous versions.

Leago's accordion brought Williams' Southern images to life on "Crescent City," "Lake Charles," and "Jackson." "Greenville" featured warm-up act Patty Griffin on harmony vocals in a version so quiet, you could hear Jackson's fingers scraping the guitar strings.

Before "Change the Locks," Williams announced she would open for Petty (who covered the song) in San Francisco later that week. "He's heard all the hype," she said playfully, "but he hasn't seen us yet."

An acoustic blues duet with Jackson delivered Lil' Son Jackson's "Disgusted," from Williams' 1979 debut, Ramblin'. Then the band launched into Howlin' Wolf's "Come to Me, Baby," before closing with "Passionate Kisses," "Something About What Happens When We Talk," and "Sweet Old World."

Williams was off to the next town. But not before a parting shot at the Grammys, and the music business in general: "They need to pay attention to the artists who don't sell 3 million records."

 
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