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Joyful Williams brings down the Opera House

Reprinted from late editionsof yesterday's Globe.

Several songs into her set last night, Lucinda Williams told her adoring audience, ''I feel so happy today -- count your blessings, I feel happy today. It doesn't happen every day, but today is a good day."

And, she had a very good night at the Opera House. Williams has garnered something of a reputation for occasionally erratic, even indifferent live performances. But there was no such static in her generous, 90-plus minute show, which found Williams in solid voice, and an even better mood.

It couldn't have hurt that she received a standing ovation before singing a single note. She opened the show with ''Ventura," from her most recent studio album, 2003's ''World Without Tears," in which Williams asks to ''get swallowed up in an ocean of love." That ocean was the near-sellout crowd, which clapped, sang along, or just hooted its appreciation all night.

''This is the best sound I've ever had," Williams said after the song, referring to the acoustics in the spectacularly restored Opera House. ''It's riveting, it's daunting. It sounds so good, it's scary."

Backed by her longtime three-piece band -- guitarist Doug Pettibone, bassist Taras Prodaniuk, and drummer Jim Christie -- Williams played favorites such as ''Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" and ''Drunken Angel." Yet she also offered several new songs, including ''Jailhouse Tears," one of the evening's standouts. Describing the song as ''stone country" in the old-school style of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, it was a gorgeously twangy thing about a hard life of six-packs, stolen trucks, and lousy men who wind up behind bars.

''It's sad, but a lot of people relate to that song," Williams told the crowd, and added that the tune was ''based on a true story." Also inspired by real events, she said, is the aching ''Pineola," about the suicide of a young man.

Despite some of her song topics, Williams and her band also played some blistering good and loud rock such as ''Out of Touch." She even took a moment to clarify ''Righteously," which some have mistaken as Williams's attempt to make a rap song. Comparing the spoken-word song to Gil Scott-Heron's classic, ''The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," Williams called the song, ''a beat-poet thing."

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