Album reviews

Lucinda Williams – ‘Ramblin’ ‘

Lucinda Williams – Ramblin’

(Floating World Records FLOATLP6019. Album review by Bruce Lindsay)

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Back in 1979, a 26-year-old Louisiana-born singer released her debut album on Folkways Records. The album was called Ramblin’ on My Mind and credited simply to ‘Lucinda.’ Re-releases (and there have been at least half-a-dozen) shortened the title and extended the artist’s name. This 2023 reissue is no exception, crediting the by now famous Lucinda Williams and calling the album Ramblin’.

It’s safe to say that Williams’ debut created little interest on its release, but as her stature has grown over the years it’s a worthy reissue (the review copy is on clear vinyl and offers excellent sound quality, even though it’s almost impossible to find the start of any individual track).

Ramblin’ is a bare-bones kind of album, nothing more than Williams’ voice and 12-string guitar plus the 6-string of John Grimaudo, who adds some fluid, melodic, solos to songs like ‘Malted Milk Blues.’ The songs are drawn from the classics of blues and country and range from the famous (‘Motherless Children,’ ‘Malted Milk Blues’) to the obscure, the religious to the risqué, all sung by Williams in a voice that’s strong and expressive but yet to acquire the more mature sound to be found on her later recordings such as the classic Car Wheels on a Gravel Road from 1998.

The fourteen songs are all covers and well-chosen: there isn’t a duff one among them. Three songs are by Robert Johnson, including ‘Ramblin’ on my Mind,’ three are credited to the prolific ‘Traditional,’ AP Carter gets a credit for ‘Little Darling Pal of Mine’ and ‘Great Speckled Bird’ (shared with Roy Acuff, Reverend Guy Smith and Traditional), Sleepy John Estes, Hank Williams (the over-familiar but still enjoyable ‘Jambalaya’) and others writers get one credit each. Memphis Minnie and Clifton Chenier are credited with ‘Me and My Chauffer’: Minnie released her version in the 1940s (when it was credited to her husband), Chenier’s came some time later. It’s a very thinly veiled blues about sex, Williams requesting repeatedly that the titular chauffeur ‘rides her downtown.’ In contrast, ‘Great Speckled Bird’ is, according to Wikipedia, a religious allegory ‘referencing fundamentalist self-perception during the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy.’ Acuff recorded the song in 1936, but the tune is best known as the melody to the Carter Family’s ‘I’m Thinking Tonight of my Blue Eyes’ or Kitty Wells’ ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels.’ Williams treats it with due deference.

Alan Robinson’s sleeve notes, written in 2009, temper listeners’ expectations, describing this album as ‘very much the work of a tyro still working through an approach that works for her, and a curio in relation to the body of work that she would assemble …’ It certainly isn’t typical of Williams’ work, but the mix of excellent blues and country songs, the interplay between the guitars and Williams’ voice, and the quality of sound come together to create a record that still sounds fresh almost 45 years after it first appeared, full of songs that were already decades old.

LINKS: Live review by Alison Bentley from 2013

Lucinda Williams at Floating World Records

Categories: Album reviews, Reviews

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