Lucinda Williams is a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll


Lucinda Williams has been making records for 20 years. Not a lot of them, mind you-last year's Car Wheels On A Gravel Road was her fifth release on her fourth label. But she's been a critic's favorite for all that time, beginning with the two releases she did for Smithsonian's Folkways label in the late '70's. She has since won a Grammy for writing "Passionate Kisses," off her 1988 self-titled album on the Rough Trade label; Car Wheels landed firmly on nearly every music critic's top ten list for 1998; and her work on Wheels has earned her two more Grammy nominations.

Still, Lucinda Williams is hardly a household name, and that may be attributable to the nature of her songs. Any artist whose work doesn't lend itself to easy categorization is often overlooked by the commercial music machine, and Williams' music is nothing if not wide-ranging. Her albums have been spotted in the folk, country, blues, and rock sections of various local music stores, and her most recent Grammy nominations are, in fact, for Contemporary Folk Album (Car Wheels) and for Female Rock Vocal Performance ("Can't Let Go," a song from the very same "folk" album).

Some critics have labeled her style under the newly revived "Americana" umbrella adjective, a fitting term because her music is quintessentially American in the way of Dylan, Springsteen, Petty and Earle. Ultimately, though, labels don't mean squat when you pop a Lucinda CD in the stereo. Lucinda Williams has a voice that will stop you dead in your tracks if you're paying any kind of attention to it, and she writes songs that make you listen to them.

Catch Lucinda Williams at the University Theater this Tuesday.

The daughter of poet and professor Miller Williams (she says he "taught me a lot about writing, of being aware of not wasting words"), Lucinda was born four and a half decades ago in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Many of her songs are set in the South, and even the ones that aren't are infused with Williams' mostly hard-bitten and particularly gorgeous Southern sensibility. Her voice, while far from technically perfect, rings like crystal in an incredible array of ranges. She sings in a languid drawl, a barely restrained shout, a soaring peal, a searing plea, a damaged whisper-at times all in one song.

And everywhere she takes that voice, Williams sings with the undeniable authenticity of one who's taken the big, important risks and received the hard knocks that accompany them. As a songwriter, she fits squarely in the "write what you know" camp; Emmylou Harris once said that "Just when you thought there were no more truths to be unearthed in the human heart, along comes Lucinda Williams, who plows up a whole new field."

Lucinda's touring band, formed in July of last year, has been receiving nothing but raves from the legions of hard-core fans, and her recent shows are said to be some of the hottest of her career. Lucinda Williams in Missoula? That's something my own pappy, himself no slouch in the word department, would call a "no-brainer."

Lucinda Williams plays the University Theatre, Tuesday, February 9 at 8 p.m. Tickets $16 in advance, available at all TIC-IT-EZ outlets, or $18 at the door.

Variety and collaboration color John Floridis' new CD


It's an oversight on this year's Best of Missoula ballot-the Best Musician category. But people who voted that honor to John Floridis last year shouldn't worry; they can still show their support by picking up a copy of John's new release Part of the Picture.

"I enjoyed the first one, and felt I had other things to say musically," says Floridis about his latest project. Specifically, he says, while his first CD mostly featured his solo guitar and voice, this album is much more of a joint effort with other Missoula artists. "It has my name on it, my tunes, but it's really a collaborative thing," he says.

The album's title fits the idea of a cooperative project. Part of the Picture, he says, describes not only how he feels about working with other musicians, but also how he feels about his place in the world, and how he feels about his music. "[The album] is not a summation of my music, but it certainly is a part," he says.

John Floridis launches his new CD, Part of the Picture, this Saturday at MCT.

All of this collaborative work-work that Floridis is grateful to have-gives the album a mellow sound that's deep and rich, yet flowing. And while Floridis' music is hard to peg, it probably can best be placed on the folksy side of pop-with a lot of acoustic guitar and strings in the mix. Floridis says he likes to push the envelope with music that extends the limits of one kind of label.

The CD runs through a variety of emotions, but themes of spirituality and love thread through all of the music. A perfect example is the third track, "Good Thing," which slowly rolls out with tranquillity, while introducing more chaotic and restless riffs, like lost love and heavy ambition "in less than a perfect world." It shows the disc's ability to keep a positive feeling while dealing with more serious undertones. Floridis sums it up best: "It's a pretty hopeful record, but not with dorky, happy, pie-in-the-sky kind of stuff.

Fans of Floridis' guitar solos won't be left out, either. New tracks like "Dancing at the Rascal Fair" and "Celtic Salmon Rendezvous" give listeners a taste of his quick, rhythmic play that will rattle around your mind and occupy your senses.

Floridis' future projects will most likely be in another format. He says he'd like to release a set of guitar solos combined from his first and second discs, or maybe do something with electric guitar. But for now, Floridis intends to remain independent and use his skills to expand his sound.

"Variety is what makes a good musician," he says.

John Floridis will perform Friday, February 5 at the following locations: Bagels on Broadway at 9 a.m.; The Bistro on Main at noon; and at Sean Kelly's at 7 p.m. The CD release concert will be 8 p.m. Saturday, February 6, at MCT.


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