Lucinda Williams / Willie Nile / Tommy Womack – Sutler (Nashville, TN)
Lucinda Williams achieved a certain apotheosis in 1998, riding her arduously crafted Car Wheels On A Gravel Road to dozens of ten-best lists, breakthrough record sales and two Grammy nominations. So the intimate Saturday-night guitar pull she put together at the none-too-spacious Sutler was destined to turn away droves of folks.
After a quick jab at a cross-town cafe famous for its enforced attention and often syrupy songwriter rounds (“You can talk; this isn’t the Bluebird”), Williams set about trading songs for three-plus hours with Willie Nile, Tommy Womack and a host of locals who, through no real calculation on her part, now seem to revolve around Williams in the Nashville universe like satellites: Hayseed, Joy Lynn White and R.B. Morris among them.
But if Williams directed the spotlight in any particular direction this evening, it was at Nile, whom she had invited to Nashville for his first-ever visit. A folk-rocker who released two acclaimed albums in the early 1980s and who largely disappeared into the cacophony of New York City, Nile displayed versatility and verve and an engaging, raspy tenor voice. He must have certainly suffered from Dylan comparison syndrome in his day, for his songs rambled from tender street poetry (“Vagabond Moon”) to a puckish humor (“I’ve Got A Girl”) to seditious love songs (“Sorry”). Lucinda cooed over his beautiful “Road To Cavalry”, and deservedly so.
Womack was taciturn onstage but breathed life and humor into songs such as “Skinny And Small” and the bluesy “Sweet Hitchhiker”. At one point, he traded songs of dead-too-soon poet friends with Williams, he with the anguishing and direct “Joe Bolton”, she with “Pineola”.
Williams worked her way through almost all the songs on Car Wheels with typical understatement, focus and power, backed by bassist Richard Price and White’s soprano harmonies. Hayseed, a remarkably original traditionalist whom Williams has proteged, offered “Wild Horses” and “God Shaped Hole”. And Mark Collie, a native Tennessean with a number of chart-making singles to his credit, came in late to knock out a couple songs, though his lyrics, like a few other performances this night, were lost in the din and the room’s muddy acoustics.
It was, in the end and inevitably, Lucinda’s night, however. Her voice is a dispatch straight out of the deep, dark South, and her songs are maddeningly simple yet full of secrets and profound unearthings. When she performs, audiences don’t feel much like talking amongst themselves anyway.