Jan 262023

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10. Barrence Whitfield with Tom Russell – I Just Want To See You So Bad

This oddball duo, the serious country Tex-Mex crooner with a social conscience, and the good time soul of a barroom party, seemed always a strange fit over the two albums they did together. Sometimes they got it so wrong, but here, for this, it just clicked. They slow slightly the velocity, chucking in some emotion quite separate from Williams’ own heartfelt angst. Whitfield sounds a player, a convincing optimist, willing to say anything to get his girl back, especially a few beers down in the evening. The setting is immaculate, the bluesy organ a beacon of hope, his vocal that rough-edged molasses yearn that can have you believe anything. (Should you think this an over-reading, note that Lu wanted to see you so bad–past tense, an explanation–whereas Tom ’n’ Barrence want to, in the here and now, making it more of a request.) – Seuras Og

9. Ellis Paul & Vance Gilbert – Side of the Road

Ellis Paul and Vance Gilbert both emerged from the Boston folk scene of the late ’80s-early ’90s, forging long, successful (by folk music standards), sometimes overlapping careers. In 2003, the friends decided to record an album together, each suggesting four cover songs, and adding two originals. One of the songs that Gilbert brought to the project was Lucinda Williams’ “Side of the Road,” which became the title track. The song is an exploration of the narrator’s need to retain their own identity while in a relationship, and Williams’ original is a loping country ballad. Gilbert, who takes the lead vocal on the cover, pushes the song more toward folk-pop, and sings a little off the beat at times, adding some edginess, while retaining the song’s wistful contemplative feeling. – Jordan Becker

8. Ane Brun – Right In Time

An extraordinary song under any circumstances, and the one that positioned, right from the opening number, Car Wheels as a remarkable album. If Lu’s version is just sassy and sexy, Brun somehow upends that feel entirely, the song of apparent lust and longing becoming one of love and loss, presenting a stark and abject vulnerability from within the lyric. Had I misunderstood the message in the original version, missed the “trying time with me”? I think so. The “moan at the ceiling” line now hits very different. Transformationally brilliant, the frailer voice and more delicate arrangement seeps pathos out of every pore. Brun is a Scandi singer-songwriter from Norway. With nearly a dozen of albums of her own material, this comes from her 2017 covers set Leave Me Breathless, all of which is every bit as good as this song. It is also she who plays Kate Bush to Peter Gabriel on the version of “Don’t Give Up” on New Blood, his orchestral re-working of back-catalog material. – Seuras Og

7. Andrew Combs – I Envy the Wind

Three of the four elements have more access to the love object of “I Envy the Wind” than the singer does. But rather than express jealousy over weather, the singer shows what the wind, the rain, and the sun can do to a body. It’s got to be one of the most tactile lyrics ever written, and Lucinda’s vocal is so full of want as to be unsteady. Andrew Combs gives the song the airy sense of uplift with his arrangement, the gentle sheen of dew with his vocal, and the beauty of a slow dawn – just three more reasons to envy the wind, rain, and sun. – Patrick Robbins

6. Waxahatchee – Fruits of My Labor

Vocally, Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee sounds more like Valerie June than Lucinda Williams. To hear the song with an airier, brighter voice is a switch that takes a minute to adjust to. Crutchfield doesn’t always read the lines like Lucinda does, either, but who wants to imitate a singer who is inimitable? The original’s reverb-soaked sound is present in the cover, but notably dialed down, as is the drum kit. Everything about Lucinda’s music, including her backing musicians, is deeply flavored. By easing off that strong seasoning, a cover can open up the song to new listeners and new listenings from long-time Lucinda fans. – Tom McDonald

5. Mary Chapin Carpenter – Passionate Kisses

Much as music critics would like to take the credit for it, it was Mary Chapin Carpenter who introduced Lucinda Williams to America. Her cover of “Passionate Kisses” went top-five on the country charts, and it won two Grammys, for Best Female Country Performance and Best Country Song. Carpenter sticks close to the original arrangement, her voice richer than Williams’s and giving the line “Give me what I deserve / ‘Cause it’s my right” the same kick of truth. – Patrick Robbins

4. The Silos – Change the Locks

On the one hand, it appears that Lucinda Williams has had generally bad luck in her relationships, but on the other hand, it has given her fodder to create some of her best songs. “Changed the Locks” is one of the best of them, about a woman getting the strength to face her abuser. Although it was not a big hit, it has claimed a place in critics’ lists of the best of her songs. The original is a bluesy, slow burner, and the cover by The Silos is pretty similar. But The Silos were a really good band that is often overlooked, and their 1994 version is excellent (despite leaving the “d” off of “Changed”), beating Tom Petty to it by two years with a version that he might have used as a template. That being said, the song’s message of female empowerment is weakened when sung by a man, whether it is Petty or Walter Salas-Humara. – Jordan Becker

3. Genya Ravan – Essence

Is this Lu’s most sultry song ever? If her own version is swoon-worthy, Genya Ravan imbues it with a whole different vibe, making it a real come-hither plea. Ravan is a superfan: the record from which this comes, 2010’s Undercover, contains three further songs written by Williams, but this is the best. With a long career, Ravan may be familiar to your dad as Goldie from Goldie and the Gingerbreads, or later, with her jazz-rock fusion monster, Ten Wheel Drive. Turning 83 this year, she is still playing and performing. The setting here is all shimmery psychedelic ’60s, with a stoned and woozy background, tempered with some guitar that Hank Marvin could be proud of. Ravan near groans through her rendition, but her vocals, cracked more even than Williams’s, work for this one. – Seuras Og

2. Charlie Hunter & Lucy Woodward – Can’t Let Go

Randy Weeks wrote “Can’t Let Go,” but Lucinda’s definitive recording came out before his original. She’s become the artist most identified with the song, and no wonder – the groove and her lyric delivery are both intense as all get-out, and yet there’s still a sense of fun to it. On their 2019 album Music! Music! Music!, Lucy Woodward and Charlie Hunter understand that fun, and give the song a steady supply of it by adding some funk to the Americana and turning it into a dance number to close your eyes and shake your fists with. – Patrick Robbins

1. Ben Folds – Side of the Road

If ever a Lucinda song was custom-made for the Ben Folds treatment, it is “Side Of The Road”, the sublimely dusty mission statement about the sweet sanctuary of solitude and calm plea to just let someone be their (damn) contemplative self for a minute. The song’s wistful quirkiness and sunny melody are downright Folds-ian. Eschewing the distinctive fiddle of the original, Folds reshapes “SOTR” into, what else, a gorgeously breezy piano-led mid-tempo pop song. Faithful in structure, and charmingly reverential in vibe, the Folds take — which originally surfaced as a bonus cut on the Japanese version of his 2005 Songs for Silverman album — is just plain gorgeous.

Bonus Cuts: Yes, this is a spectacular case of an actual bonus cut having its own bonus cuts! There are not one but two additional and highly worthy Foldsian roadside tributes to bend a further ear to! Come get esoteric with the cello version here! Then go honor your introspective leanings with the sweet solo version from Folds’ livestream series Apartment Requests here! – Hope Silverman

Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including Dolly Parton, John Prine, Willie Nelson, Beach Boys, Elvis Costello, and more.

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

Comments (1)
  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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