Car Wheels On A Gravel Road – The First Session ( 1995 ) [ Stoned Turtle STCD 009 ]
Right In Time / Greenville / Concrete And Barbed Wire / I Lost it / Drunken Angel / Can’t Let Go / Metal Firecracker / 2 Cool 2 B 4-Gotten / Lake Charles / Still I Long For Your Kiss / Car Wheels On A Gravel Road / Jackson / Out Of Touch / Joy / ( Down The ) Big Road ( Blues ) [ 64:48 ]
Lucinda Williams began sessions for her 5th studio LP in Austin, Texas in 1995. Forever known as a perfectionist ( “I’ve been called a neurotic, a demanding diva, a perfectionist. Okay, I’m a perfectionist.” “I don’t know if I can make a record that I feel totally 100 percent right about, I would love to have that feeling but I have never had that feeling, and I still don’t have that feeling.” ) Lucinda had started these sessions 3 years after achieving moderate critical success with her 4th album ‘Sweet Old World’ ( The label that had represented that LP long since folded ) and had created enough interest within the musical fraternity to lure in a few big names to help her with the album.
Joining her in the Austin studio were erstwhile producer and Guitarist Gurf Morlix plus Small Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan, as well as other members of her regular band, to name a few.
Demos for the album were written and recorded then showcased for the winter of 1994 through 1995 with initial studio sessions formally set for February and March that year.
The sessions were just about finished and roughly 15 tracks were recorded and prepared for the album when Lucinda was asked to join Steve Earle in the studio to duet on a track on his “I Feel Fine” album, Namely “You’re Still Standin’ There”. The collaboration led Lucinda to once take a step back from her own recordings, listen to this new duet and question what she had achieved with Gurf and what she could do with Steve and Ray – “I was blown away by the technique that Ray used to record my vocals. I heard nuances in my voice that I hadn’t heard before.” ( It would be this change in direction that would eventually lead to Gurf and Lucinda both falling out with each other and going their own representative ways. )
Struck with inspiration, Lucinda decided to rope in both Steve and his producer Ray Kennedy ( together known as ‘Twangtrust’ ), take the band to Nashville and have them produce the album instead. Thus the initial sessions were consigned to the bin and the new sessions would form the shape of the second set of album sessions.
Further indecisive moments ( Lucinda’s ) were enough to break Mr. Earle down and before the second round was finalized, Steve would walk away leaving another unfinished set of tracks.
Frustrated, Lucinda took the Nashville mixes out to Los Angles for E Street keyboardist Roy Bittan to tweak while he added his own organ and accordion to eight of the tracks. He would also overdub the guitar parts of Charlie Sexton, Greg Leisz, Buddy Miller & Johnny Lee Schell leaving Rick Rubin and Jim Scott to mix the album apart from “Metal Firecracker” which Ray Kennedy too back to Nashville to mix.
Thankfully the first sessions were not completely scrapped but a studio quality tape was dutifully leaked where they were expedited in to a silver disk bootleg by alt-country label, Stoned Turtle who would include the 2 tracks that, even though they were recorded at the same session, didn’t make it as far as the re-recording stages.
So, these are the first examples of, essentially, a work in progress. As the album was re-recorded there were bound to be some changes to the line up but these, despite Lucinda’s perfectionist tendencies, are small, indelible differences to the songs but strong enough to be distinct.
The main things you’ll notice are the way the songs are delivered; On the commercial version Lucinda’s vocals are much more heartfelt, closer to happiness but the original studio sessions find a weariness in her voice. Things are sung a little more simply, her voice has always been a factor to her reaching the barrier of success but no further and here, the delivery is rather tell- tale and shows up the atonal pronunciation that was her own.
Underneath this, the other thing you may notice is that the first sessions were very much an organic piece. Acoustic guitars vie for a place over Ian McLagan’s organ.
The two tracks that really show change are “Jackson” and “Joy”. On the official album “Jackson” is a very straight forward, fireside acoustic tune filled with acoustic and slide guitars, accordion, bass and percussion with Jim Lauderdale providing harmonies.
The original session is much more ‘original’ country. The first thing you’ll notice is the violin that measures with acoustic guitar. This is slowly followed by electric guitar and the drums that track out a metronomic, two step tune. The accordion, when it joins in, is mixed much louder.
For “Joy”, it’s recording from the later sessions is a brusque, broody rant with a solid beat and an angry menace behind it. Lucinda sounds angrier, like she’s struck on a white knuckle ride out of the place where her mojo was taken from her. The electric guitar soloing sparks like a red mist descending before blowing up the sparring between Steve, Gurf, Johnny Lee Schell and Bo Ramsey. It’s time is kept to a neat 4 minutes.
In that parallel from the lost sessions, “Joy” is a swamp rocker, slower in pace and, in effect, leans more towards a jam. A shattered drum beat thunders underneath the initial jabs at the organ while Gurf throws jagged little licks out as the band eyeball each other, each looking to double guess the next move of the rest. This runs to a magnificent 7 minutes in length.
The bonus tracks to this collection are the first sessions version of “Out Of Touch” that saw eventual release on ‘Essence’ in 2001. Again, a slighter, acoustic take on the general version consisting of acoustic and electric guitar, violin and organ
For the second bonus we have (Down The ) Big Road ( Blues ). Simply titled “Big Road” on the boot, this track appeared on the deluxe version of the album in 2006 but on there it has been remastered for a fuller, beefier sound. It also sounds in some places like a much rougher sound so rather than thinking of this version as a pirate, it sounds well together to highlight how it sounded before it’s remix.
The artwork is the usual generous Stoned Turtle fare – an 8 page colourised and black & white booklet filled with various stock photos of Lucinda. There is a little bit of info with regards to the first sessions but now you have this review, you won’t need that ..
Lucinda will always stay on the cusp of bigger and greater things, no doubt due to that work ethic or her voice not being to everyone’s taste but fans of her work will love this CD, it’s encapsulation of these almost forgotten sessions and the fact that the deluxe version of the album proper almost completely sidelined these sessions in favour of a live album instead.