Sometimes in pop music, they have to invent a new category — a new genre — in order to describe a singular artist’s musical approach. It happened with Elvis (Rock & Roll), Ray Charles (Soul), Bob Dylan (Folk Rock) and The Sex Pistols and their mid-1970s British brethren (Punk).
While it would be an overstatement to say Americana was invented solely to describe Lucinda Williams’ groundbreaking mixture of literate singer/songwriter Folk and bluesy, energized Country Rock, delivered with a twangy and soulful enunciation, she had a lot to do with its creation.
For years, Williams had trouble finding radio airplay and record labels, despite the worth of her material.
After two small-label, finding-her-muse albums, her self-titled 1988 release — on super-hip Indie label Rough Trade — showed her strengths in blossom with tunes like “Passionate Kisses,” “I Just Wanted to See You So Bad” and “Big Red Sun Blues.” But she needed four years to get a follow-up out on another small label, Sweet Old World, and six more for her breakthrough, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. By then there were influential new labels dedicated to growing Americana music, such as her current one, Lost Highway. And radio stations began playing it, too, like the local WNKU.
“I had a hard time getting a record deal at first because my stuff fell in the cracks between Country and Rock,” she says during a recent phone interview. “They didn’t have Americana then, or AltRock or AltCountry. That was just before the Rough Trade album came out in the late-1980s. I got a lot of interest from labels, but I couldn’t get signed for anything. They just didn’t know how to market it.”
Folksy songwriting goddess Lucinda Williams swings through PNC Pavilion Friday for a night of rocking Americana. Go here to read Steven Rosen's full interview.