Lucinda Williams is many things, but fast is not one of them. Car Wheels On A Gravel Road is her first release since 1992's Sweet Old World, and the road to the album's fruition was a rocky one. Several false starts, including a stint with Steve Earle behind the boards, slowed down the recording process considerably. When the album was finally completed with the hands-off help of former E Street Band keyboardist Roy Bittan, Williams' new label unraveled. Then there's the matter of her legendary perfectionism. When all is said and done, we're lucky this album was released at all. Full of personal ruminations on relationships and acute memories of her early life moving from town to town with her poet father, Car Wheels is a grand and welcome return for Williams. With blustery country-blues like "I Lost It" (about losing "it," whatever it is) and Springsteen-worthy anthems like "Right In Time" and "Metal Firecracker," Car Wheels is as great as anything she has done. Compare for yourself: The re-release of the eponymous record Williams recorded for the doomed indie Rough Trade has been remastered and reissued with bonus tracks, new art, and Williams' own annotations, and newcomers would be well served by immediately picking up this 10-year-old masterpiece. Nearly every one of the album's songs has been covered by artists like Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tom Petty, Patty Loveless, and Joy Lynn White, and, like the best of Dylan's songs, Williams' works are so astoundingly good that they hardly sound like originals.
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