Lucinda Williams “Buttercup” (2011)

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Some rock singer’s voices are almost so bizarre you wonder how they even had the audacity to step up to a microphone and try in the first place. I mean, what on earth gave Tom Waits the idea that his grotesque growl could possibly ever work in popular music? Or Lou Reed? Or Joe Cocker?? Yet they do. They all do. Somehow the uniqueness became the charm, and their singing performances succeeded spectacularly. It’s all just taste, of course, but on the other hand I find Dave Matthews’ voice reminiscent of a hyena in heat, Geddy Lee vocals to me are like nails on a chalkboard, only slightly more painful, and Yoko Ono is, well, no that’s just not a matter of taste, that’s simply not singing. Unless maybe you’re a whale.

Another member of that unconventional first group is the wonderfully muddled Lucinda Williams. I think her songwriting is fabulous, the musicians with which she’s always surrounded herself are superb, and yeah, I absolutely love her voice. Although I must admit, pretty much everything she warbles sounds like it came from someone who just smoked a bunch of crack, took a two-day nap, and gargled with moonshine when they arose. But I love it. Williams, originally from Lake Charles, Louisiana, has been writing and playing great rock, folk, Americana and country music now for a really long time, 40 years to be exact. She’s recorded 14 albums, with her commercial breakthrough – and my first time noticing her – coming in 1998 on the seminal and Grammy awarded album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, and she also wrote the hit ‘Passionate Kisses’ as made famous in a 1992 version by Mary Chapin Carpenter (Time Magazine once named Lucinda Williams “America’s best songwriter”).

Though her 2011 album Blessed did debut at #15 on the Billboard 200 record chart, it ultimately received less notice than many of her others. However, it did contain the lead single, and the rocking track featured here, ‘Buttercup’, which I think as well as any showcases Lucinda’s distinctive ability to slur out an anguished tale of torment while seeming equal parts doped, smashed and sedated. And for it all to work together perfectly.


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