Car Wheels On a Gravel Road
by Lucinda Williams

Buy Car Wheels On a Gravel Road

Car Wheels On a Gravel Road by Lucinda WilliamsCar Wheels on a Gravel Road, the fifth studio album by Lucinda Williams, is a highly acclaimed, awarded and influential 1998 record. In fact, several have credited its release as a pivotal moment in the course of folk and country roots music as well as the origin of the alternative country sub-genre. Further, this album’s rural lyrics about simple but relate able situations along with the excellent, earthy musical arrangements work to make it fresh and timeless decades after its release.

A native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, Williams began her music career in Austin and Houston, Texas in the mid 1970s. She developed a distinct blend of country folk and rock that led to her initial record deal and the 1978 release of her debut album Ramblin’ on My Mind. In the 1980s, Williams relocated to Nashville and began receiving critical acclaim and scored a minor hit with her 1988 self-titled album. 1992’s Sweet Old World had even more modest commercial success but was widely recognized for its fine songwriting. It would be six years before Williams, a recording perfectionist, would release her much-anticipated follow-up.

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, commenced recording in 1995, shortly after Williams signed with American Recordings. The original version of the album was made with producer Gurf Morlix in Austin, Texas. However, Williams shelved that version and started over in Nashville with co-producers Steve Earle and Roy Bittan and a large ensemble of Nashville session players.


Car Wheels On a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams
Released: June 30, 1998 (Mercury)
Produced by: Roy Bittan, Steve Earle, Ray Kennedy & Lucinda Williams
Recorded: Room and Board Studio, Nashville, & Rumbo Studio, Canoga Park, CA, 1995-1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Right in Time
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
2 Kool 2 Be 4-gotten
Drunken Angel
Concrete and Barbed Wire
Lake Charles
Can’t Let Go
I Lost It
Metal Firecracker
Greenville
Still I Long For Your Kiss
Joy
Jackson
Lucinda Williams – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Dobro
Gurf Morlix – Guitars, Vocals
John Ciambotti – Bass
Donald Lindley – Drums, PercussionCar Wheels On a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams

 

 

The album commences with “Right in Time”, a minor hit with a twangy overall sound (but not so overt as modern country) and, ultimately, a moderate and pleasant mixture of layered guitars. The title track “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” has even more refined and methodical musical elements as a patient yet energetic track which melodically has an almost new wave rock approach. “2 Kool 2 Be 4-gotten” starts off with a potent drum shuffle before more subtle guitars, a bass fill in the cool rhythms and a subtle accordion by Bittan. Although the extreme laid back vocals may be a little too staged, overall this is the best song of the opening trio.

“Drunken Angel” makes a strong statement as an Americana alt country staple with pure nineties grunge pop vocals and attitude, while “Concrete and Barbed Wire” reverts to an acoustic country waltz with a building arrangement throughout while staying within the old-time country realm. The storytelling “Lake Charles” features a strong beat with steady, thumping bass by Ciambotti and some slide guitar. The Randy weeks cover “Can’t Let Go” features Mississippi Delta like acoustic blues with a nice shuffle percussion beat and twin slide electric guitars on top.

Lucinda Williams

The album’s second half features an array of quality tracks with the standard alt country pop song “I Lost It”, a post-mordem on a lost relationship on “Metal Firecracker”, and the emotional country ballad “Greenville”, which features Emmylou Harris on harmony vocals. “Still I Long For Your Kiss” was co-written by Duane Jarvis, while “Joy” is built on rotating acoustic and electric bluesy riffs during its long intro and droning song proper. The quiet acoustic closer “Jackson”completes the record in a very moody and beautiful way.

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road became Williams’ first Gold album and won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. The crossover success of this album led to Williams touring with top-notch legends such as Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in support of the album.

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1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1998 albums.

 

Copperhead Road by Steve Earle

Copperhead Road by Steve EarleSteve Earle has always woven in and out of the outlaw country genre  exploring different sectors of musical territory. Back in 1988, Earle took his first major turn into what would eventually be called “Americana” with the album Copperhead Road. This hybrid of country twang and solid rock elements propelled the Texas native into an area all his own for decades to come. This album followed Earle’s first two releases, Guitar Town, in 1986 and Exit 0 in 1987, both of which had sold well and earned enthusiastic reviews within the country music scene. But Earle and Nashville soon tired of each other and the artist set out to make an album “where heavy metal meets bluegrass”.

Prior to signing with MCA Records, Earle had paid his debts in the music industry in Nashville and various locations in Texas. Starting in 1975, he spent over a decade as a songwriter, session player, band bassist and front man for his group “The Dukes”. Earle had a previous contract with Epic Records but was dropped after releasing just one EP called Pink and Black in 1982.

Copperhead Road contains a definite eighties production sound by producer Tony Brown. It employs a big drum sound and arena-influenced guitars, at times sounding more like Aerosmith or Guns n’ Roses than the country/rock sound of the contemporary “New Traditionalists”. Still, the songs’ roots shine through all the gloss and firepower. Beyond the songwriting and vocals, Earle is fluent array of instruments, including six and twelve string acoustic guitars, mandolin, and harmonica.


Copperhead Road by Steve Earle
Released: October 17, 1988 (MCA)
Produced by: Steve Earle and Tony Brown
Recorded: Memphis, 1988
Side One Side Two
Copperhead Road
Snake Oil
Back to the Wall
The Devil’s Right Hand
Johnny Come Lately
Even When I’m Blue
You Belong to Me
Waiting on You
Once You Love
Nothing but a Child
Primary Musicians
Steve Earle – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Mandolin, Harmonica  | Donny Roberts – Guitars
John Jarvis – Piano  | Kelly Looney – Bass  |  Ken Custer – Drums

 

The songs on side one of Copperhead Road reflect on Earle’s leftist politics. “Snake Oil” attacks then president Ronald Reagan, comparing him to a traveling con man. “Back to the Wall” is about poverty and homelessness and “The Devil’s Right Hand” is an anti-gun tune which tells the tale of a lonely gunslinger. “Johnny Comes Lately” has its roots in Earle’s anti-Vietnam activism as a young man. This tells the story of two generations of soldiers coming home from the war – one a veteran of World War II and his son, a veteran of the Vietnam War – and contrasts the differing receptions they received on returning home. This side one closer features the folk group The Pogues as Earle’s backing band.

Title track “Copperhead Road” was also the big hit single from the album. It starts with a bagpipe-sounding synth and then morphs into a mandolin-dominated opening verses before dramatically crashing into it’s loud “rock” sections later in the song. It tells the story of a Vietnam war veteran from a Tennessee moonshine clan who returns home to grow marijuana on his family’s land in order to make ends meet. The song has a anthemic feel throughout, making it one of Earle’s most memorable songs.
 

 
So is Earle primarily a musician or a political activist? Well, on side two of Copperhead Road, he pretty much abandons his preaching on social justice and rage against the establishment for more traditional, country-influenced “love” songs. “Even When I’m Blue” is a typical country theme, which deals with your typical love and life scenarios. “You Belong to Me” and “Once You Love” are honest and absorbing reflections of the heart of a dysfunctional romantic. The closer “Nothing But a Child” is a quasi-Christmas song which features guest Maria McKee on vocals and the group Telluride providing mandolin, dobro, and violins.

Following the release of Copperhead Road, Earle was compared to everyone from Bruce Springsteen to John Mellencamp to Randy Newman to Waylon Jennings. However, a combination of heroin abuse and troubles with the law halted his career in the 1990s and Earle never quite reached the level of those artists. However, by the end of the century Earle was back to form and released several more important albums through the 2000s.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums.

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