Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
ucinda Williams has always been about the song. During the first two decades of her career, her output was not very high (5CDs in 22 years) and her concerts left you a bit on edge because she herself was not overly comfortable being on stage.
But somewhere along the line, a few key elements changed - the amount of musical output (6 CDs in just under 10 years) and quality of performance.
The Louisiana native still could not be accused of being the gregarious type, but if charged with offering a slew of high end music from nearly every release of her career, Williams would have been forced to plead guilty on this evening.
Williams' new disc, "Blessed," mines far more of a bluesy, sometimes on the heavy bent than her recent spate of rootsy, country music. Williams, 58, did not shy away from the new songs either, playing about half of them. They came off as less bluesy in concert, but worked very well within what she was trying to achieve in the show.
Particularly inspired was the emotional Changed the Locks near the end of the regular set. Country song Concrete and Barbed Wire was straightforward with a lot of hefty slide guitar. The songs, of course, wring a lot of emotion out of the lyrics - this is not feel good music. Pretty much nothing from "Blessed" was light, such as Buttercup and Convince Me with its soulful, bluesy bent working particularly well with guitarist Val McCallum and drummer Butch Norton letting loose.
Williams was helped by her ace backing trio of West Coast musicians McCallum and Norton and David Sutton bass. McCallum contributed a tremendous amount of fills whether playing straight electric guitar or slide. Norton did what the songs required - going heavy with more of a rocking sound or easing up on the softer numbers.
Williams was not the most dynamic performer going. She introduced almost every song played during the 115-minute show tonight, but practically every single time, it was of "This song is x" variety. Nothing but the facts mam.
Williams grew slightly more expansive later in the show. After playing Awakening from "Blessed," Williams said, "Thanks for listening to the new songs. I'm excited about the new record." She should be.
Once again, Williams also had a lyrics cheat sheet stand. Fortunately, she did not refer to it all that much after a few songs, although it remains dumbfounding as to why she'd need help in recalling the lyrics to her own songs.
Okay, so maybe Williams isn't the most captivating showman - neither is she dull - but we pretty much knew that already. Fortunately, her material - both old (and she didn't even play a bunch of career-type songs including Car Wheels on a Gravel Road and Passionate Kisses but more importantly new - were most engaging.
Dylan LeBlanc opened with a set of earnest music far better suited for a folk music club than a hall of this size. LeBlanc's songs were a bit too similar. In a different venue, they may have worked just fine.