Live Review: Lucinda Williams @ Celtic Connections 23/01/2023

‘I can still sing,’ Lucinda Williams said on stage during her show on Monday night, a defiant reminder that despite a stroke she still has her voice. As a singer and lyricist she’s always turned the broken and fragile parts of her life into songs, and they felt even more vital and powerful after all she’s been through to get back on tour again.

Coming on stage unsteadily, and with assistance, may have shocked some fans, but despite this she stood strong the rest of the night – playing nearly two hours without needing to sit down. Even if she could no longer play guitar, her voice sounded undiminished, still able to rip out your heart and your breath with her tone and her truth. Wearing a t-shirt that read ‘File Under Rock’ showed her attitude has not been diminished either.

From the opening ‘Can’t Let Go’ she sounded at home and grateful to be on stage, with thankfully no sense that this tour is some kind of forced financial obligation.

‘West of Memphis’ showed her political, activist heart remains strong. She introduced her classic ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road’ by taking us back to her childhood memories, more poignant now as she ages and faces the past.

‘I’m here to sing sad songs,’ Lucinda announces during the set, half-smiling at her own maudlin back catalogue – full of elegies for the dead and odes to the lost ones including the gorgeous ‘Stolen Moments’ dedicated to Tom Petty and her classic ‘Lake Charles’.

Even with the strength of her back catalogue, it was one of her most recent songs which stood out. Her voice has never been more haunting than on ‘Big Black Train’, from her album ‘Good Souls, Better Angels’, a song which cuts to the truth of melancholia and depression.

Lucinda closed her set with a cover of Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’, perfectly encapsulating the mood of the evening. There was something so emotional and life-affirming about seeing a woman nearly seventy, having recovered from a stroke, standing with a raised fist, singing ‘keep on rocking in the free world’, reminding us that we too need to ‘sing real loud’ and fight injustice with peace and love.

In the face of setbacks and serious illness, survival itself becomes strength. The ovations and support from the audience only added to the emotion of the evening.

We’re blessed to have her. Long may she rock.

Photos by Kendall Wilson photography, with kind permission

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