Relistening to Lucinda Williams' 1988 self-titled release, it's initially startling to hear how pure her voice sounds. Williams' vocal cords have taken on so much character over the years, so it's a little like listening to Joni Mitchell then and now. This remastered reissue also includes a Netherlands concert, as well as some bonus cuts. It adds up to around two hours of Williams' music and is certainly worth the time spent listening to it.
Even though her voice was a little prettier back then, she still sounded extremely sad. That's why a song like Am I Too Blue almost plays out like a rhetorical question. Williams may wear pain on her sleeve, but she's never been the kind of woman to take her suffering sitting down. Both I Just Wanted to See You So Bad and Passionate Kisses (also a hit for Mary Chapin Carpenter, for instance, are assertive expressions and calls to action.
One of the added bonuses of this re-release is the inclusion of Williams' self-written liner notes. Although they're brief, they give insight into what was going through the singer/songwriter's mind when she wrote them. For The Night's Too Long, a song about a nighttime girl named Sylvia, for instance she notes: "There's a Sylvia in every town." Then on Like A Rose she writes: "I was going for the feel of the Velvet Underground's I'll Be Your Mirror and Sunday Morning," and you can really hear that band's distinctive melancholy influence on the track.
Stylistically, Williams has always been a tough one to peg. When she sings Factory Blues on the live set, she's an authentic blues shouter. However, Gurf Morlix acted as her kind of one-man-band on the studio recording, playing almost anything with strings, and Jim Lauderdale's back-up vocals also gave the project more than enough necessary twang.
Unlike so much music recorded in the '80s, this Williams album doesn't sound dated. She didn't write trendy pop songs, but real stories about real people, like the Sylvias in every town. And this is why it stands up so well.