Monday, June 8, 2009

Lucinda Williams/ The Flatlanders


June 1st / Paolo Soleri Amphitheater, Santa Fe

Jim Webb wrote:

The highlight of the evening was a superb seventeen song set uncorked by Texas natives Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock (a.k.a., The Flatlanders). There must be something in the water for Lubbock to have so many great singer/songwriters hail from that “flat” part of West Texas. Their first album together was recorded in 1972, and then it only took them another thirty years to get the follow up release finished. In between all three established solo careers, and tonight was one of their infrequent concert appearances.

Joe Ely, who is known as The Lord of The Highway due to his never ending tour schedule, is the real deal in working class authenticity. Jimmie Dale Gilmore sounds just like - no one, except Jimmie Dale Gilmore. His high, lonesome tenor I’m sure made any coyotes wandering down nearby arroyos feel at home. Butch Hancock was just in Santa Fe this past February for a solo show at Gig Performance Space, and you can also occasionally hear him when he accompanies over night raft trips on the Rio Grande River at Big Bend National Park in Texas. Together they take turns on lead vocals, and asking who the best songwriter is among them is like trying to pick mint chocolate chip ice cream over double chocolate chunk or rocky road.

The only knock on their solo careers is that each studio release always has two or three really good tunes, but the rest tend to be just average. What do they sing about? Their styles as writers are somewhat similar in that they all have a sharp eye for detail in making people’s daily lives and their relationships more important than anything else. They are a throw back to the classic country writers of the forties, fifties and sixties. Their song writing bloodlines run from Hank Williams to Willie Nelson, and special reverence is reserved for their departed guru - the legendary Townes Van Zandt. So far this was easily not only the set of the year, but as good an American roots music set I’ve heard since I saw Emmylou Harris in 2005. Being fifteen feet from their three mike stands didn’t hurt (no brag, just fact).

After playing tunes from each of The Flatlanders four cd’s Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s classic song Dallas was turned into a honky tonk rave-up and it ended their one hour set on a triumphant high note. They encored with Van Zandt’s White Freight – Liner and the nearly full Paolo Soleri crowd roared in appreciation.

Lucinda Williams and her band Buick 6 came out about twenty minutes later and went right to work playing selections from throughout her thirty year catalogue of music. She is one of our most gifted songwriters, as well as a powerful singer. The only complaint I have in her first forty minutes was that it was loaded with her more introspective material. Coming right after The Flatlanders spirited set, it made these songs seem even quieter than usual.

There are two different sides to Lucinda’s writing, the smoldering poet, and her razor sharp rockers that could musically and lyrically slash anyone apart who’s done her wrong. I prefer her hard stuff myself, but we got a large helping of both last night. Drunken Angel, Concrete and Barbed Wire, Metal Firecracker and Joy came from her 1998 Car Wheels on a Gravel Road release. Blue, Essence and Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings were also played during her hour and twenty minute performance. Her most recent cd Little Honey gave us the up tempo Honey Bee, Real Love and a surprising set closing rendition of AC/DC’S – It’s a Long Way To The Top.

A solid show, but a little bit of a spark seemed to be lacking at times. She is a better songwriter than any of The Flatlanders (and that’s saying quite a lot), but their stage presence and overall exuberance gave them the upper hand in my opinion. I think Lucinda Williams only problem last night was that she got knocked off stride by a West Texas storm that blew in from Lubbock, and never really recovered.

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