I hadn't listened to Lucinda Williams "Essence" in a very long time. "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road" has always been my go-to record. In 2016, Lost Highway released "Essence" on vinyl for the first time. This came out in Europe only and it only just appeared on my radar this week. I was thrilled about finally having it to spin and I did so last night.
In a word, whoa!
"Essence" seems to have gotten lost in the shadow of "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road," or at least that is how I perceive it. Maybe Lu fans have been loving this record all along and only I lost it along the way. Even All Music gives "Essence" less of a rating than "Car Wheels" before it and "World Without Tears" after it.
Charlie Sexton's restrained production matched with the usual intensity from Miss Williams sends this record into trancelike, Van Morrison "Astral Weeks" territory. Lucinda sets that stage on the opener, "Lonely Girls," with the title just about being moaned like a mantra. "Essence" plays, like most of Williams best work, like a true confession. It's stark, at times painful, and yet always musical. That's the real key. It is truly musical underneath the pain. After two solid spins, "Essence" struck me, at least at post time, as a better record than "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road," or more realistically, as part of a power couple, much like "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver."
But here's what I was thinking.
Can you think of a record, a follow-up to an obvious masterpiece or crowd pleaser, that received a much stronger reception much later than it had upon its release? The first that comes to mind is The Byrds "Sweetheart Of The Rodeo."
Again, I may be wrong and all of you readers might have been loving "Essence" all along. But I'll take the shot and say that isn't the case. It could also explain the 15 year wait for a vinyl release, and then, nothing in the U.S..