Jan 262013

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

The one and only Lucinda Williams turns sixty years old today. She brought together so many threads of the nation’s musical quilt, added one of the great voices, both as a singer and as a songwriter, and ended up becoming queen of Americana. No other country in the world could produce any Lucindas; the U.S. was lucky to produce just one. (It’s next to impossible to just call her Williams; she’s ineffably, invulnerably Lucinda.)

A talent like this deserves to be celebrated, and we’ve chosen five artists to help us do so with five Lucinda covers. We hope you will enjoy the show…

Bettye LaVette – Joy (Lucinda Williams cover)

Lucinda’s “Joy,” from 1998’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, is a one-chord stomper from someone mad as hell who won’t take it anymore. Her re-recording of “Joy” was just released on West of Memphis, the soundtrack to the documentary about the West Memphis Three, where its mix of defiance and hope finds new meaning in a new setting. Northern soul queen Bettye LaVette’s 2005 cover came out almost exactly halfway between Lucinda’s two versions, making for the best Joy sandwich you’ll ever eat.

The Silos – Change the Locks (Lucinda Williams cover)

Lucinda set out to write a song with no chorus. In the liner notes to her self-titled album, she says that music executives told her she couldn’t do that, then slyly adds how much she loves Tom Petty’s version of “Changed the Locks.” It’s safe to say she liked the Silos’ “Change [sic] the Locks” as well; they recorded it before Petty, and band founder Walter Salas-Humara opened for Lucinda at a few shows in the Southwest earlier this month.

Peter Gallagher – Still I Long For Your Kiss (Lucinda Williams cover)

It may surprise you to learn that Peter Gallagher (who you’ll know from sex, lies & videotape or The O.C., depending on your age) recorded a blue-eyed soul album, 2005’s 7 Days in Memphis. It may surprise you further to hear how well he pulled it off. Granted, when your backup band consists of Steve Cropper leading the best players in Memphis, the job gets a little easier, but Gallagher more than acquits himself – he brings true feeling to the songs, right from the opening track, Lucinda’s “Still I Long For Your Kiss.”

Damhnait Doyle – Essence (Lucinda Williams cover)

We first wrote of Damhnait Doyle when looking at her cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me.” The album that came from, 2007’s Lights Down Low, also features her take on “Essence,” the title track of the album Lucinda released six years prior. The differences between Lucinda’s and Damhnait’s recordings is like the difference between the tastes of dust and dew, and both versions truly revel in their element of choice.

Lila Downs – I Envy the Wind (Lucinda Williams cover)

Speaking of elements, “I Envy the Wind” touches on air, water, and fire; Lucinda absorbs them all, wraps them up in tremolos, then frees them in the form of arguably her most beautiful vocal performance. Tom Waits may have written “Emotional Weather Report,” but here, Lucinda embodies it. Lila Downs’s cover floats on a lake of feeling rather than in it; her voice is richer than Lucinda’s, her delivery pacifying but no less powerful. (It also benefits from a nice trumpet solo.)

www.lucindawilliams.com is the place to go when you need a little more Lucinda in your life.

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