Best Albums of the 90s – #3
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams (1998)
I’ve written so often about Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels On a Gravel Road that I feel like I should just post a collection of links to those other posts rather than rehash all of those points again. (I won’t, though) Put simply, this album is the best evocation of a time, place and mindset that I’ve ever heard.
I’ve long been a fan of movies that immerse me in a new place — whether it’s a Maori tribe in New Zealand or an inner city neighborhood in New York. When a movie can capture the sights, sounds and smells — the complete experience — of someplace new, it becomes something transcendent, a sort of teleportation device.
I feel like I’ve mentioned Lucinda Williams’ 1998 Car Wheels On a Gravel Road about a thousand times on this blog. So I checked and the actual number is thirteen (not counting today). This is another of my desert island discs and one I can’t help but reference frequently.
That’s because it does so much right in so many different ways. It rocks awfully damn hard but also contains moments of great tenderness. It is filled with simple but profound story songs, such as the title track’s childhood reminiscence of an early morning car ride or a woman stripping down to wait for her lover in bed (in opening track ‘Right on Time’).
Never one to rush, Williams took another six years before releasing her next album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. The long wait, and the story behind it, became another chapter in Williams’ story… she was derided as a control freak, her perfectionism painted in the worst possible light.
But it’s hard to argue with the results. Car Wheels was hailed as a masterpiece, winning Williams her first Grammy and topping countless year-end and decade-end top ten lists. It also was her first album to go gold (and possibly her last, though I’m not sure about that).