“I’m never gonna fade away,” the Americana legend sings on her 15th album
In the spring of 2021, Lucinda Williams chatted with Rolling Stone about her recovery from a stroke she’d had the previous November that had led to her being unable to play guitar. “The main thing is I can still sing. I’m singing my ass off, so that hasn’t been affected,” she told RS. “Can’t keep me down for too long.” That spirit animates the Americana legend’s 15th album, Stories From a Rock N Roll Heart, a 10-song collection where Williams celebrates the power of survival by performing with and honoring the friends she’s made through her lengthy career.
Williams co-wrote all of Stories’ 10 tracks with her husband and longtime collaborator Tom Overby; Nashville session guitarist Travis Stephens and downtown New York rock fixture Jesse Malin also assisted. “Let’s Get the Band Back Together” sets the tone, its hard-won reflection (“We were just another bunch of stupid kids/Staying up all night playing poker and pool”) melding with the sort of defiant jubilance that powers great rock & roll songs. It’s an “I’m still here” declaration that’s backed up by the music that follows.
Williams’ “Rock N Roll Heart” is a Hammond B3-laced salute to rock’s power to inspire people like “a blue-collar boy in a no-win town” — a topic that sounds tailor-made for a song by Bruce Springsteen, who along with his wife Patti Scialfa provides backing vocals that underline the new cut’s echoes of his own 1980 track “Hungry Heart.” Country spitfire Margo Price’s yelps add a punk-rock edge to “This Is Not My Town,” a swampy survey of a ruined landscape that was “the place that made me” but has now been overrun by clowns. And folk-rocker Angel Olsen’s counterpoint harmonies on the tender ode to a neighborhood dive “Jukebox” drives home the ways that familiar places and songs can provide solace, with Olsen answering Williams’ prayer of being absolved from loneliness in stirring fashion.
The Louisiana-born troubadour also pays homage to two friends and colleagues she’s lost. “Stolen Moments,” which was written in memory of Tom Petty, is a slow-burner that reflects on how grief can hit one at unexpected times — driving on Sunset, staring out an airplane window. It blooms into the sort of rave-up that Petty and his Heartbreakers specialized in, capped by a scorching electric guitar solo that fades away just before the song does. “Hum’s Liquor” is a heartbreaking portrait of alcoholism written as a tribute to late Replacements guitarist Bob Stinson; that his brother and fellow Replacement Tommy provides backing vocals makes it even more of a gut-punch. Williams has survived so much over the course of her life, but she hasn’t let it break her — as she declares on this record’s closing track, “I’m never gonna fade away.” Stories From a Rock N Roll Heart is an example of strength and conviction — as well as friendship.