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Lucinda Williams rides high, most of the time

Orpheum Theatre, Boston, March 24, 2007

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Lucinda Williams is riding high these days. The rootsy/country veteran released a great new disc, "West," in February, which ended up being the highest debuting disc of her career.

And now she is taking "West" on the road, underscoring what a fine CD it is.

However, on this night, not everything worked quite right.

After going on 30 minutes later than expected for unknown reasons, Williams started off with "Rescue," the first of several low key, laid back songs, musically spare, leaving the focus on the vocals.

Williams was in strong vocal form throughout. The Louisiana native certainly doesn't rush songs along - they didn't call for that musically - and often puts the song across with a lot of fury and passion whether ballads, a bit more rocking, country or blues (she turned in a very fine version of Skip James' "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues," showcasing where Williams' sound evolved from).

She often sings with a bit if a pause or hiccup in her voice and sometimes raising her voice for added emphasis. Her southern drawl adds more color to her vocal phrasing.

Williams was backed quite capably by a trio featuring steady timekeeper Don Heffington on drums, David Sutton on bass and Doug Pettibone, a stellar guitarist. He often played short steely runs, excelled on the straight ahead country tunes and was a general tour de force. Williams deserves credit for not being a stage hog - she clearly let her band play out, not needing to reign them in since their fluid playing only added texture and musical bite to the songs.

Williams played a chunk of "West," and like many of her songs, there is a tremendous amount of heartache, loss and resentment about bad relationships. Such has life been for Williams unfortunately. This isn't the feel good music often part and parcel of today's country music scene. Just the opposite - a real downer after awhile.

While no faulting Williams for her subject matter, she could be faulted for a few other aspects of the show. Williams seemed to suffer from a general discobobulation throughout. While historically not the most comfortable performer, though clearly appreciative of her fans who have supported her for years, Williams tended to thank them and say the band was having a good time on stage. Maybe they were, but Williams left an uneasy feeling.

Inexplicably, Williams also had a cheat sheet with her on stage in the form of lyrics on a music stand. And she referred to them often, which proved to be disconcerting.

Thanks to Williams going on stage 30 minutes late, she also cut her show short, leaving out six songs from the set list, including "Passionate Kisses." She claimed several times she had to end the show because of a time deadline. However, a supervisor at the show said the venue, in fact, had no curfew.

On this night, Williams was very good, but with a few definite kinks, making this performance not quite up to thet snuff of her other shows in Boston.