Jan 262023

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20. Sean Rowe – Soldier’s Song

In our Best Covers of 2015 blurb, we wrote that “If we did this list like an Oscar ballot, Rowe might not have made it. Just as sometimes Meryl Streep has two possible Best Actress performances in a year, he’s competing against himself. Any song on his terrific Her Songs EP could have been a contender here. On it he covers women he admires, from Neko Case to Lucinda Williams.” We actually picked his version of Sade’s “By Your Side” for that list, but, as we noted then, his “Soldier’s Song” is just as good. – Ray Padgett

19. Dead Ringer Band – I Just Wanted to See You So Bad

One of four singles from Williams’ self-titled third album, it’s an uptempo country rocker whose peppiness seems a little at odds with its message of romantic obsession. Maybe Williams was trying to make the obsession seem less creepy. The cover by the Dead Ringer Band, despite their being from Australia, may be even more “country” than the original, and features a nice fiddle solo. The Dead Ringer Band, which featured then-husband and wife Bill and Diane Chambers and their children Nash and Kasey, released their version on the 1995 album Home Fires, which won Best Country Album at the ARIA Music Awards in 1996. Kasey, whose maturity in her singing belies the fact that she was still in her teens when the album was released, went out on her own to some acclaim (our #1 cover of 2022, for instance) after the band released their final album in 1998 and Bill and Diane Chambers divorced. Nash became a successful producer, sitting behind the boards on many of his sister’s albums. – Jordan Becker

18. The Band of Heathens ft. Margo Price – Joy

Somebody took Lucinda Williams’ joy, and she’s mad. She has a couple good leads on getting it back, but before she starts her inexorable march to reclamation, she’s got to spit her fury. “Joy” is no ode to joy, but it can lift you up all the same. The Band of Heathens do an excellent job at giving the song that lift, and guest vocalist Margo Price delivers the fire – and not in any gift box, neither. – Patrick Robbins

17. Bill Frisell – Venture (Live)

This long instrumental version is a marvel of ensemble improvisation and looping pedal prowess. Remember that Lucinda’s song, musically speaking, is about as simple as can be. One plain chord progression played over and over. Here, though, the guitarist loops his own playing to create overlapping waves and washes (Lucinda’s song is about the ocean, after all) while the trio swims in the sea of sound for nearly 10 minutes. Frisell teamed up with saxophonist Charles Lloyd over a decade later to do another arrangement of the song, with Lucinda herself on vocals. I prefer the purity of this live date. – Tom McDonald

16. Empath – Drunken Angel / The Other Side

The “Drunken Angel” from Philadelphia noise-rockers Emphath might not be the best cover on this list, but it’s probably the most different than the original. The music is pure punk, rough and gritty and loud as hell. As if that wasn’t enough, it bleeds into four minutes of improvised noise they named “The Other Side” after a line from Lucinda’s chorus. “We were interested in reworking a song outside of our typical style of music,” the band’s Catherine Elicson wrote back in 2019. “We also wanted to pay homage to Lucinda Williams, one of the greatest living songwriters. So we dragged ‘Drunken Angel’ through the Empath filter, and the result is what made it to the other side. Lucinda, we hope you don’t hate it!!” – Ray Padgett

15. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Change the Locks

“Change the Locks” (or “Changed the Locks,” depending on who’s singing) sees the singer doing everything possible to break off from an ex, from the simple to the well nigh impossible (seen anyone change the name of a town lately?). The song’s big secret: the singer is still responding to the ex on a deep level, and is working hard to separate for fear of how the ex might “touch me like before” and “make me want you more.” Which isn’t to say that’s the spin everyone gives the song. Tom Petty’s Lucinda-approved take turns it into a complete kiss-off. “Honey, I’m laughing all the time!” he sings, a line not in the original, and the freedom he feels in being able to do so is palpable. – Patrick Robbins

14. Emmylou Harris – Sweet Old World (Alternate Version)

Emmylou and Lucinda are a great match for each other—they’ve collaborated more than once, and they’ve appeared on each other’s albums. It’s doubtful that Lucinda was thinking of Gram Parsons when she wrote this mournful ode to a loved one who chose to end his life (for one, Parsons’ death was accidental, not intentional), but Emmylou may well have had her old musical partner in mind as she recorded this cover. She sings it with sweet sadness and with her trademark tremor and whisper-light high notes. This version is an alternate take of the song that appears on Harris’s Wrecking Ball album. I prefer the alternate track, which doesn’t include the distraction of Neil Young’s harmony vocals. – Tom McDonald

13. Vanessa Carlton – Lonely Girls

Yes, it’s Vanessa Carlton of “A Thousand Miles” fame. Back in 2018, she produced a bimonthly covers series, tackling old chestnuts from Fred Neil, Neil Young, and Fleetwood Mac alongside more recent hits by Robyn and Elliott Smith. The final installment was this cover of a track from Lucinda’s 2001 album Essence. The spacey synth washes don’t sound like either Carlson’s piano-pop hits or Williams’ twangy Americana. Carlson wrote, “I’m a big Lucinda Williams fan but I had never heard this song. My producer Adam Landry suggested it and I was charmed. Adam played the heartbeat percussion and that’s when the song came alive in the studio. I thought if I got the Watson Twins to do this with me it would really create an interesting feminine depth. We are all lonely girls navigating the game aren’t we?” – Jane Callaway

12. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Can’t Let Go

The latest album from Plant and Krauss, Raise the Roof, featured two Lucinda Williams covers. “Can’t Let Go” is the highlight as it lends itself well to the duet vocal treatment, especially on the coming-on-strong chorus. I never thought to compare Plant’s voice to Lucinda’s but, well, comparisons can be made without much stretch, at least on this cover. Krauss’s voice is a different animal entirely, but the way it soars over Plant’s on the phrase “I got a big chain around my neck” is a chilling moment. Helped by bassist Viktor Krauss, Alison’s brother, “Can’t Let Go” is a big sounding song on a big sounding record. It’s probably a nice big royalty check for the songwriter Randy Weeks, who got around to recording his own song more than two decades after Lucinda included it on her breakthrough album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. (“Can’t Let Go” is the only song on this list Lucinda didn’t write herself.) – Tom McDonald

11. Mary Lou Lord – Hard Road

Mary Lou Lord is from Salem, Massachusetts, and after graduating from Berklee with a degree in audio production, she went to London to continue her studies and began busking. She returned to Boston and continued to busk, playing original songs and covers before Kill Rock Stars signed her in the early ‘90s, even if her folk songs were a little outside the label’s sweet spot. In 2000, Kill Rock Stars released a split EP featuring Lord and the delightfully named Sean Na Na, which included her take on Lucinda Williams’ “Hard Road.” The song was originally released on Williams’ Sweet Old World album, and is a country ballad about an struggling street singer named Bill (possibly Bill Priest, about whom Williams wrote “Six Blocks Away”). The song has a guitar part that, to me, is reminiscent of the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple,” and Lord’s version retains a Dead-ish feel. Although it is definitely smoother and folkier than the original, I think that the Allmusic review that claims that Lord “transform [ed] it from a savory Southern pecan pie to a cutesy, gelatinous marshmallow puff” is way off base. – Jordan Becker


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  One Response to “The 25 Best Lucinda Williams Covers Ever”

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  1. Not to take anything away from Waxahatchee’s great version of Fruits of My Labor, but an organization named Sounds of Saving that works with a Brooklyn (?) suicide and crisis hotline to get artists to talk about and cover “songs that found me at the right time” recently released Circuit des Yeux’s covering this (she had done it earlier with Julia Holter) and it’s really powerful. Not just the song, but her talk before it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iy6HehLaOg

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