Review: Lucinda Williams simple, powerful in Aspen show
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – Judging from her show Saturday night at Belly Up Aspen, it’s possible to conclude that Lucinda Williams doesn’t know more than five chords on guitar, and that she has decided never to use all five in the same song.
It is also likely that no one – not even Van Morrison, who is a master at this – has been able to say more with those few chords than Williams. Sticking largely to G, C, D and A minor, she captured the attention of the audience and never seemed to let go. If Williams started out a bit detached, speaking little between songs and semi-hiding behind blue-tinted glasses, she certainly wasn’t by show’s end, when she was visibly touched by the reception and responded with a generous set of encores. She was also clearly impressed – as was everyone in the room — with her three-piece band, especially the magnificent young guitarist, Blake Mills.
Williams’ limited vocabulary extends beyond the guitar. Her songs consist of short lyrical lines, with phrases often repeated. She doesn’t favor flowery language. And while she works both ends of the emotional spectrum – severe pain and total release – she doesn’t have a whole lot in between. As for rock-star gestures, Saturday night’s show had none, not even facial expressions. Williams glances at her book of lyrics, sings the songs, and when her band jams, she steps back, not facing the crowd.
Williams clearly doesn’t need fancy language, diminished 7th chords or stage fireworks. Her songs get right to the point, and she makes them stick. On the new song “Born to Be Loved,” she squeezes meaning out of the last syllable of the word “suffer,” until you know she has seen suffering. The title song from her new album, “Blessed,” is notable for its downbeat delivery, yet Williams has that magical ability to convey ultimate gratitude with a handful of chords and a handful of everyday images.
The one area in which Williams allows herself to overflow is the songwriting. The songs, both old and new, seemed to be pulled from a bottomless well, each one saying just what it needed to say, and then no more. Her songs have a drive to them, gathering momentum – much like the show itself. This is an artist who knows how to make every word, every gesture and every chord count.
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