Before there was Americana music, there was Lucinda Williams.
And while her rustic delivery of blues and country-tinged rock songs would now easily fit into the recently-coined designation, Williams has always been a slave to the song, not a particular genre.
“I was kind of just all over the map from the beginning when I was singing other people’s songs,” Williams said. “When I first started playing gigs, I wasn’t a full-time songwriter, I’d always just look at other material. It didn’t matter what the style was as long as I could figure it out and sing it and it felt good to me. I didn’t want to pick a style. I didn’t want to be a folk singer or a country singer.”
Over the past four decades, Williams has earned a reputation for penning meticulously crafted songs. She was dubbed "America's best songwriter” by Time magazine in 2002.
Back at the beginning of her career, she ground it out for more than a decade before releasing her first major album, bouncing from Austin, Texas, to Jackson, Mississippi, to Los Angeles and Nashville in search of a musical education.
“I was more honing my craft in those early years, working on songwriting and how to sing in front of an audience,” she said. “I moved to Austin in 1974, when I was 21, and that proved to be a really good move. That’s where I cut my teeth. Then I moved to L.A. in 1984, that’s when I started worrying about the music business.”
Williams found success with her self-titled album released in 1988, highlighted by the song “Changed the Locks,” which was later covered by Tom Petty. She cemented her reputation as a talented songwriter with “Passionate Kisses,” which was a hit for Mary Chapin Carpenter in 1992 and earned Williams a Grammy for Best Country Song.
After releasing “Sweet Old World” in 1992, six years passed before her seminal work “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” hit store shelves.
“Sometimes they come out really quickly and other ones take more time,” she said of her songs. “A lot of times, I’ll have a song I start and I end up going back to (it). I’m always writing notes and going back. I’m always getting inspired. I don’t consider myself a perfectionist any more than any other writer.”
The daughter of a piano-playing mother and a father who worked as a literature professor, Williams came to her profession naturally.
“I was always a songwriter,” she said. “As long as I could read and write as a kid, I started writing little poems and stories. I think it’s just in my genes -- my mother was a musician. It was kind of meant to be.”
After large gaps between album releases during the '90s, Williams has been much more prolific in recent years, a trend she attributes to stability with her label, Lost Highway.
“I got on a roll, putting albums out on a regular basis,” she said. “I had a solid base for the first time. I was with the same label for a long enough time. Before that, I was bouncing from label to label -- there were all these lags.”
Williams has recorded material for a double album, due out at the end of September.
She said the release will have a Muscle Shoals Sound feel, alluding to the Alabama studio that helped popularize soul and R&B artists like Wilson Pickett, drawing the attention of Paul Simon and the Rolling Stones, who later recorded there.
“I like to refer to it as country soul,” she said. “I’ve got some songs that have a really good beat that you can dance to and some country ballads as well.”
The rough cuts of the tracks have already drawn the approval of Elvis Costello, an old friend of Williams’ and an artist with whom she’s collaborated on a number of projects.
“His opinion is so highly regarded, and I feel like he really understands me and understands who I come from musically,” Williams said.
When: 9-10:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2
Where: Main stage, Salmonstock Festival, Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds, Ninilchik
Tickets: $65-$70 (Saturday pass), salmonstock.org