Lucinda Williams, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Nobody could ever call Lucinda Williams prolific. Thirty years into her career, the singer-songwriter's legendary perfectionism has seen her produce just seven studio albums, with an eighth offering, the compelling West, due next February.

Tonight's show, rescheduled from last year when an ear infection forced the cancellation of her British tour, supports the contention that 53-year-old Williams invented Americana. Traditional in its musical styling, her plangent country blues aches with a quicksilver poetry that transcends genre limitations.

With low-slung guitar and leather cap, Williams resembles nobody so much as a bluegrass Patti Smith. Her forte is plaintive yet forensic lyrical dissections of relationships heading for the rocks, and Those Three Days finds her scornful towards a lover who bailed out when things seemed to be going well.

Williams inhabits every fibre of Ventura, a graphic confessional about cathartically purging herself of a failed affair by puking it down a toilet: were Sylvia Plath to have fronted a dislocated rock band, it would have sounded like this. She's perkier on Come On, an acerbic spoof of 1970s rockers such as Free and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

If there's a fault, it is that the music does not always equal the dextrous brilliance of her wordplay: tracks such as Out Of Touch veer vexingly near to mundane saloon-bar blues. Yet the evening's best moment is the gorgeous Rescue, from her imminent album, a spectral caveat against the perils of regarding love as a cure-all.

Bruce Springsteen joins her at the close to strum rhythm guitar on an old blues standard, Disgusted, and her defiant post-relationship anthem Joy. It's a rousing end to a virtuoso performance from an iconoclast who will always value quality over quantity.


Ian Gittins

The GuardianTramp

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