Just having wrapped up tracking songs for her forthcoming album, tentatively titled Blessed, Lucinda Williams is singing a classic Who chorus to me over the phone. “I can see for miles and miles, I can see for miles and miles,” she croons softly in her distinct timbre, which splits the difference between milk, honey, and whiskey-poached weariness.
“Blessed is sort of the theme of the album, I guess,” says the 57-year-old, Louisiana-born roots-rock veteran. “We were blessed by the blind man who could see for miles and miles,” she continues, citing the theoretical title track’s lyrics.
Williams is definitely worthy of blessing. En route to Saturday’s No Depression Festival, the three-time Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, and guitarist has authored nine studio albums while living through more than her share of tumultuous relationships, brutal break-ups, and paralyzing streaks of writer’s block.
Starting with Ramblin’, her 1978 debut, Williams has traced an unusual career path from classic folk-tinged country, to the harder rock edges and polished pop facets that shaped 1998’s breakthrough, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. While romantic landmines, chemically induced downfalls, and erotic quagmires remain bedrocks of her work, an innate optimism in her viewpoint elevates later albums like 2001’s libidinous and soulful Essence and 2008’s wryly sentimental Little Honey to a level of seasoned, clear-eyed sophistication found only in similarly spirited artists like PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, and Tom Waits.
Then she finally found the love of her life. “When I got engaged to Tom [Overby], everyone would ask me ‘What’s going to happen to your songwriting now?’,” she recalls, indirectly referencing the idea that good country songs come only out of discontented writers. “Actually, the songs just started pouring out. I went on this writing streak after we got off the road and just wrote and wrote and wrote. I actually have enough songs for two albums right now.”
This is not to say that Williams now floats blissfully along without an awareness of the inherent pain of being mortal. “Yeah, I’m happy,” she says. “But happiness is all relative. There will always be suffering in the world.”