Happy or sad, Lucinda Williams still smolders

Lucinda Williams mixed old and new material during her show at the House of Blues. Lucinda Williams mixed old and new material during her show at the House of Blues. (Niko Alexandrou for The Boston Globe)
By James Reed
Globe Staff / March 12, 2011

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Lucinda Williams got married in 2009, and even she wondered aloud in interviews how wedded bliss would affect her creativity. Anyone who feared happiness would spoil a woman who’s often at her best when life’s at its worst probably exhaled in relief early into Williams’s show at the House of Blues Wednesday night.

“Tryin’ hard to be a happy woman/ But sometimes life just overcomes me,’’ she sang on the chugging “Happy Woman Blues,’’ from the 1980 album of the same name.

She followed it up with the more optimistic barroom blues of “Tears of Joy’’: “Now I have a real man/ Don’t have to pretend/ And that’s why I’m crying tears of joy.’’

It was official: Williams still knows her way around a broken heart, but she has also made peace with hope and contentment.

Even when the songs were down and out, she sounded sublime at the House of Blues, assured and at ease. No doubt the club setting cut Williams some slack to loosen up, which was often at odds with her frequent glances at lyrics on a nearby music stand. Williams surveyed a wide swath of her career, from the earlier days (“I Lost It,’’ “Changed the Locks,’’ “Pineola’’) to more recent fare (“Righteously,’’ “Honey Bee,’’ and most of her brand-new album, “Blessed’’).

Williams is on the road with one of her leanest backing ensembles in recent memory, just David Sutton on bass, Butch Norton on drums, and Val McCallum on electric guitar and harmonica. Together with Williams on guitar, they fleshed out the songs with grace and economy, built firmly around Williams’s vocals. On several songs, it initially seemed like there was no fire, until you realized it was simply smoldering.

Much like the production on “Blessed,’’ the mood was mostly low key except for when McCallum unleashed blistering solos that occasionally hijacked the songs. Other times, Williams put down her guitar long enough to become a dusky torch singer, never so evocatively as on “Born to Be Loved,’’ a new song that was bookended with “Fruits of My Labor.’’

By nature, Williams is not a raucous performer, but she doesn’t have to be. The hell-raising lives in the jagged edges and murky shades of her voice, not to mention her lyrics. “You can’t light my fire, so [expletive] off/ You didn’t even make me/ Come on!’’ is surely the most bracing kiss-off ever to be aimed at a lousy lover.

Celebrating his 21st birthday, Louisiana native Dylan LeBlanc opened the show with an unvarnished set of acoustic country-blues indebted to what he later requested from the audience: shots of Jack Daniel’s.

James Reed can be reached at


With Dylan LeBlanc

At: House of Blues, Wednesday