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Singin', Talkin', Laughin'

Lucinda Williams

at the El Rey, September 9

Lucinda Williams kept a firm grip on her joy during the Sweet Old World night of her ambitious “album-a-night” stand at the El Rey. The dark angel of twang had a good ol’ time, playing with special guests like Jim Lauderdale, Chuck Prophet and E of the Eels, her crackerjack band keeping things more or less together.

The show was not a straight run-through of what Lucinda called “the forgotten album.” As the mistress of ceremonies, she took time to explain the inspirations behind her songs — her adorable little brother, suicidal poets’ funerals, aggravating but cute past loves — offering disarming, humorous insights into her creative process.

The performances rambled along, more like a rehearsal or a house party, with Lucinda halting the proceedings several times to start tunes over. The opening line of “Prove My Love” — “we all make mistakes some times/and I’ve made my share of mine” — drew laughter when sung for the second time after Lucinda and the band had skidded to a stop, then restarted the tune.

Most of the arrangements didn’t deviate much from the spotlighted album’s originals. Still, slow burners like “Something About What Happens When We Talk” and “Sweet Old World” became even more downtempo, with guest Greg Leisz’s pedal steel weaving wistful atmospherics.

The toll of all that singin’, talkin’ and laughin’ did show on Lucinda’s voice, a ragged-but-right instrument under the best of conditions. But her vocal authenticity served her well in the second set, which was peppered with several tracks from West (including the incantatory “Mama You Sweet”), a few choice covers and a wall-of-glorious-sound version of “Joy.”

Fans who split early missed something special, when the Doors’ Robby Krieger joined the encore fray. A swirly-spooky “Riders on the Storm” found Lucinda tongue-twisting that menacing Morrison line, “girl you gotta love your man/take him by the hand/make him understand,” with some croaky-drawl feminist attitude. “It’s really an honor when you get to play with your heroes,” Lucinda gushed. As her expanded guitar-army unwound the redemptive “Unsuffer Me,” with Lucinda railing “my joy is dead/I long for bliss,” Robby ripped through the song, racing toward the white light with lysergic abandon.

—Tom Cheyney


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