Lucinda Williams, Michelle Shocked
Aug 12, 1989
Women and girls
THE TEXAS CAMPFIRE TAPES, Michelle Shocked (Cooking Vinyl/Mercury)
LUCINDA WILLIAMS, Lucinda Williams (Rough Trade)
The surprise success in this country of Short Sharp Shocked means we get a special local release of Texan troubadour Michelle Shocked’s 1986 walkman-recorded debut. (The Aussies don’t.)
Both writing and recording are raw; other than Michelle’s guitar the only accompaniment comes from crickets and passing trucks.
These early songs are more flippant, forgettable and at times more fun than those on Short Sharp… Unintentionally she recalls early Dylan in rambling, surreal shaggy-dog stories like ‘Who Cares?’ and caustic character studies like ‘The Secret Admirer’.
She has already outgrown these tunes and her best is surely yet to come; still it’s easy to hear what caught the imagination of Pete Anderson who produced the far more sophisticated follow-up. Look out for their next collaboration.
While Michelle Shocked carries an air of confident, carefree youth, Lucinda Williams seems a more worldly and weary character. At 35 she has seen several record deals come to nothing and, assuming there is much autobiography in these songs, has seen her share of men, bars, bands and cars. Her language is country-simple, her folk and blues roots familiar. But what makes her such a strong original is a knack for capturing complex emotions in song, without using contrivance or cliché.
There’s romance, but it’s never quite straightforward. In ‘The Night’s Too Long’, a waitress leaves small-town Texas in search of bright lights, rough boys, new clothes. She finds them, though that doesn’t cure her restlessness. The chorus poignantly captures her ambivalence: “The night’s too long/It just drags on and on/And then there’s never enough/That’s when the sun starts coming up…”
Men figure as objects of both lust and oppression. The raunchy opener ‘I Just Wanted To See You So Bad’ is an unabashed expression of sexual desire; but ‘Side Of The Road’ sees a character trying to balance her relationship with a need for a private sensuality: “I wanna be alone/But I wanna know you’re there… I wanna know the touch of my own skin/Against the sun, against the wind.”
Her southern-inflected vocals and guitar are supported by a fine band of old hands, and the whole thing was done for a budget of $US15,000, which is exemplary. A great record.