Lucinda Williams' critically acclaimed album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road turns 23 years old in 2021. The singer-songwriter released the record -- her fifth studio project -- on June 30, 1998, after scrapping the original version and having a falling out with her longtime producer and guitar player Gurf Morlix.
The 13-track Car Wheels on a Gravel Road features collaborations with fellow now-iconic artists including Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris. The time it took to get it right was worth it: Williams won a Grammys trophy for Best Contemporary Folk Album thanks to the disc, and the song "Can't Let Go" -- the only one that Williams didn't have a hand in writing -- earned a nod for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.
Williams truly made her mark with Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, fusing folk and country with rock and blues, creating a seminal alt-country album. In early November, she'll hit the road celebrate the record's anniversary of the album; tickets for the Car Wheels on a Gravel Road Tour are available on Williams' website.
Below, The Boot ranks the 13 songs on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Read on to see where your favorite track lands:
Reminiscent of a Southern gospel tune, "Jackson" is slower than Williams' usual fare, but its themes of heartbreak and love gone wrong are right in line with others in her catalog. A song for the road, "Jackson" follows the singer throughout the South as she goes town to town, never shedding a tear, all the way to Jackson, Miss., where she doesn't think that she'll miss you much.
"Lake Charles" is one of the saddest songs on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road -- which is saying a lot, as most of the album's tunes reflect heartache and hopelessness. Its beautiful, past-tense storytelling is an ideal vehicle for Williams' heartbreaking voice.
The down-tempo, acoustic "Greenville" is a different turn for Williams, who sets aside her driving, rock vibe for the beautiful, harmony-filled tune. As a bonus, this track features Emmylou Harris.
"You can't depend on anything really / There's no promises, there's no point / There's no good, there's no bad in this dirty little joint ..."
Williams' hopeless lyrics belie the alcohol-inspired confidence of the patrons at a bar in a small town. "2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten" is a sadly relatable tale.
The imagery is rich in "Metal Firecracker," which captures the end of a love affair. The song finds Williams trying to pack away the memories and promises that now lack meaning.
"Still I Long for Your Kiss"
It's an off-limits love that Williams pines for in "Still I Long for Your Kiss," which she co-wrote with Duane Jarvis. The slow and sultry tune comes near the end of the album (it's Track No. 11), but it's worth the wait.
Williams' plaintive cry in "I Lost It" is for a love who has gone missing from her life. Trying to fill the void with substitutes isn't working, but the mid-tempo heartbreak song sure sounds good as she tries.
"Give me some love to fill me up / Give me some time / Give me some stuff / Give me a sign / Give me some kind of reason," Williams sings. "Are you heavy enough to make me stay? / I feel like I might blow away / I thought I was in Heaven / But I was only dreaming ..."
"Concrete and Barbed Wire"
Williams takes a turn to classic country with "Concrete and Barbed Wire," a melancholy waltz. Tapping into tradition but maintaining the rebel grit she embodies, this one delivers on the heartbreak.
"Right in Time" is Williams' authentic love song offering on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. The beautiful ballad describes a simple and effortless love in sensuous, physical terms: "I think about you / And that long ride / I bite my nails / I get weak inside / I reach over and turn off the light / Oh, my baby / The way you move is right in time / Is right in time with me."
"Car Wheels on a Gravel Road"
This album's title track is rich with romantic nostalgia and references to the classic music that defined Williams' childhood in Georgia. She mentions Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams on the radio, and a road trip with "cotton fields stretching miles and miles."
This anthemic love song gives voice to the downward spiral of an ailing bard. Williams sings lyrics that paint a vivid image of a losing fight: "Some kind of savior / Singing the blues / A derelict in your duct-tape shoes / Your orphan clothes and your long dark hair / Looking like you didn't care / Drunken angel."
"Joy" is the penultimate track on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, and the burning breakup song became a standout in Williams' catalog. The fierce rebel cry paved the way for the women rockers who blur genre lines between country, blues and rock.
"Can't Let Go" is the only track on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road that Williams didn't write -- but with her at the helm, vocally speaking, it made quite the impact. Penned by Randy Weeks, the driving, gritty heartbreak song earned Williams a Grammy Awards nomination and a Top 20 hit on alt-rock radio.
"He won't take me back / When I come around / Says he's sorry / Then he puts me out," Williams sings in "Can't Let Go." "I got a big chain around my neck / And I'm broken down like a train wreck / It's over, I know, but I can't let go."