Lucinda Williams's 'Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart' Are Tales to Live By

BY Dylan BarnabePublished Jun 28, 2023

Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart, Lucinda Williams's latest, is just that — all heart. In 2020, at the age of 67, the legendary songwriter suffered a stroke that left her with impaired motor skills on the left side of her body. Determined to get back on her feet, Williams rehabbed for months to learn to walk again, though sadly remained unable to play her beloved guitar. However, that didn't deter her from making music. Instead, Williams made the pivot from her tried-and-true process and leaned into something new — writing lyrics without her guitar. Alongside her husband, manager, and co-producer Tom Overby, Williams threw herself into work and opened her world to new kinds of collaborations. 

With the release of Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart, Williams not only makes her triumphant return, but also showcases the true spirit of rock 'n' roll. She looks mortality in the face as one of the greatest living American singer-songwriters, and then gets the band back together, quite literally, to sing about it. "Let's sing a song for the disappeared / Let's raise a glass to the best of friends / Here's to the night that never ends," she sings on the rabblerousing album opener, a call to community and the binding power of music. 

Williams has been a staple of the Americana world for over six decades. From her early days singing in Texas to the critically acclaimed heights and commercial success of 1998's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Williams has made a name for herself as one of country music's best lyricists. Her latest record is a chance to celebrate that genius with others; it features backing vocals by Jeremy Ivey, Jesse Malin, Buddy Miller, Angel Olsen, Margo Price, Tommy Stinson and Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa. Young talent butts up against established titans, bringing into sharp focus the tightly knit bonds of musicianship and how the ever-enduring spark of creativity brings us back to ourselves. 

In that sense, Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart is as much about the physical — playing music with friends — as it is about the spiritual, convening and healing through song. Yes, Williams contemplates her own mortality and artistic relevance ("Never Gonna Fade Away") but she also chooses this record to commemorate the memory of others like Tom Petty ("Stolen Moments") and Bob Stinson ("Hum's Liquor"). Her ability to extend nuance and build empathy through narrative is startling and, frankly, impressive given her long career. 

On "Last Call for the Truth," Williams sings about being given "one more taste of my lost youth." It's hard not to view the song through the eyes of the now 70-year-old songwriter, as she reflects on the existentialism of aging, but this record is the record of a fighter — of a rock 'n' roll heart that "can't be broken or torn apart." Williams fights with tenacity for her craft and holds space for those who have been taken too soon. Most of all, she yearns to remain inspired: "I wanna feel that moment / When the song can find me / I wanna feel that moment / When the song can save me." Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart is brash, loud, triumphant and quintessentially Williams — her perseverance in the face of adversity is truly inspiring, and these stories are tales to live by.  
(Highway 20), (Thirty Tigers)

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