Lucinda Williams @ The Brighton Festival (by Klare Stephens)

4 stars (out of 5)

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It’s been a while since Lucinda has graced the UK with her presence and tonight she fitted in a Festival appearance as part of her north European tour.  ‘An Intimate Evening With…’ is a chance to showcase her last album, 2011’s “Blessed”, probably her best offering since “West” in 2006.  But she does not take to merely promoting her most recent work, instead preferring to cherrypick songs from over three decades for the festival crowd.  But make no mistake, this is no greatest hits package as defined by sales but, thankfully, carefully selected songs from a vintage singer/song-writer.   A few technical issues of sound and dry ice distract initially (“We’re not Whitesnake, y’know, I feel like I’m playing in a smoky bar!”)

She kicks off with “Passionate Kisses”, the Grammy-winning track she wrote for Mary Chapin Carpenter.  The concert continues her themes of heartbreak and loss, but it takes a specialist to dissect the human heart without merely going over the same ground and Lucinda succeeds.   Although repetition is a strong feature of her writing style in terms of turning some of her songs into drawling incantations of powerful lines, there’s not enough of this for me tonight as her song choices on the whole avoid such relentless intimacy.  Writing prowess aside, an artist like Lucinda was born to tell her tales live and she certainly is a powerful performer and effective communicator; she also plays a mean acoustic guitar backed only by bass and lead guitar.

Lucinda is “so in the moment” that she forgets her set list and instead works her way through the ballads in her folder, before upping the tempo slightly.  Williams’ voice attracts every Bourbon-soaked cliché but let’s just say she really sounds like she’s been there, and probably on more than one occasion, but at 60 years she still walks with her vulnerability; tonight we hear more of the songwriter and less of the singer.  First person experiences form the bulk of her canon, which ranges from ballad to blues to rock edge which makes Lucinda an exciting live ticket. Long regarded as a competent live artist, Lucinda delivers those contrasts in tempo well, building the energy of the set that peaks at the much requested “Drunken Angel” and angry anthem, “Joy”.  The audience are Lucinda’s contemporaries age-wise and sadly there are very few younger converts in evidence here and mostly festival goers taking a punt on a recommendation, but a core of fans enthusiastically make themselves known between songs.

Most of her albums were represented here including “Jackson” from “West”, the album that did the best, chart-wise in the UK and she showcased 2 new songs including “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, hopefully from a forthcoming disc as she admits that she is longing to get back into the studio.

The encore was an acoustic rendition of Nick Drake’s “Riverman” followed by the gratitude anthem, “Blessed” and it was all over after an impressive set of over 100 minutes.  A quick mention is deserved for Jimmy Livingstone, support act who had his moments also on a singer/song-writer ticket.