Album Reviews

Lucinda Williams – Stories From A Rock N Roll Heart

(Highway 20/Thirty Tigers) UK release date: 30 June 2023

After the twin maladies of a stroke and a tornado, her 16th album is a triumphant return, an uplifting listen and a valuable addition to her magnificent catalogue

Lucinda Williams - Stories From A Rock N Roll Heart 2020 was an eventful, life-changing year for Lucinda Williams. She released her hard-hitting 15th album Good Souls Better Angels and had to contend with the effects of the ongoing pandemic and her Nashville home being damaged by a tornado. Then, towards the end of the year she suffered a stroke that resulted in her spending five weeks in hospital (one of which was in intensive care). The stroke affected the entire left hand side of her body and she was only able to walk with the help of a cane. The incident obviously raised serious doubts over whether she might be able to continue her music career.

Thankfully, the next few years saw her make good progress in her rehabilitation to the point where she could contemplate working on new songs and playing shows again (the stroke didn’t affect her voice but has prevented her from playing guitar). The remarkable outcome to this period of difficulty is Stories From A Rock N Roll Heart, a resurgent collection which sees her deliver a fantastic set of songs that play to her many strengths. 

Given the challenges caused by the stroke it’s perhaps not a surprise to learn that the album required a change to her usual songwriting methods. She started to form ideas for new songs soon after the stroke but the end result was very much a team affair, with her husband/manager Tom Overby, New York singer-songwriter Jesse Malin and Williams’ longtime road manager and veteran guitarist in various Nashville bands, Travis Stephens, all contributing to the 10 songs.

It opens with Let’s Get The Band Back Together which sees them chop their way through swathes of organ on a combative, bluesy rock n roll outing. It’s a classic case of not over-complicating things, following a well-trodden path but still managing to sound fresh and impactful. New York Comeback is even better, sounding both effortless and soaring. Later, the title track inhabits a similar space and aesthetic and it’s almost possible to actually feel the wind rushing through your hair as you drive down FDR Drive, with the city skyline in view. Both songs feature Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa on backing vocals which help further elevate them skywards.

Later, she pays tribute to two sadly departed musicians. Stolen Moments addresses the loss of one of her musical heroes, Tom Petty and Hum’s Liquor sees her salute Bob Stinson, lead guitarist of The Replacements. The latter in particular is more nuanced and true to her alt-country roots, recalling moments on her earlier albums like Essence and World Without Tears. Jukebox shows her storytelling abilities to be as strong as ever as she recounts a tale of being alone in a bar finding solace in a jukebox (“I know how to ease my lonely heart with Patsy Cline and Muddy Waters”). Moments like this also show how her voice is in remarkable condition, weathered and gnarly as ever but also in possession of a captivating power. The standard is maintained right to the end. This Is Not My Town is gloriously ragged, swathed in keyboards, her drawl in full effect while Where the Song Will Find Me showcases the depth in her writing and her insurmountable faith in music. 

“I’m never gonna fade away,” she promises on powerful final track Never Gonna Fade Away as guitars smoulder. For that, we can be sure and thankful. Stories From A Rock N Roll Heart is a triumphant return, an uplifting listen and a valuable addition to her magnificent catalogue.

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