Friday, January 31, 2020

Album Of The Week: Essence (And A Question)

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..


Honest Ed said...

Tbh, I always preferred Essence to Car Wheels..

But then I'm in Europe (till tonight, at least).

Anonymous said...

only one that comes to mind is Miles Davis' "Jack Johnson" as a follow up to "Bitches Brew." At the time of its release, I think it was regarded as a placeholder jam. In the end, it received the "complete sessions" release before "Bitches Brew" did, maybe because his fans realized it was purest distillation of what he was doing then.

I'll leave to the Dylan fans to debate how "Basement Tapes" and "Desire" were regarded in relation to "Blood on the Tracks." I really can't remember what was their reception.

mauijim said...

Sal great question and brilliant choice of Sweetheart. My selection is Lou"s Berlin. Maybe still not loved but admired?
For the record, i did love Essence, enjoyed its step away from Americana sound from Car. Also might oof helped that i saw her for the 1st time supporting it.

Troy said...

Two that come to mind:
1. Bruce's Tunnel of Love, following up the massive crowd pleaser Born in the USA. Tunnel of Love received kind of a lukewarm reception (though I really liked it a lot) but IMO has really grown in stature when considering Bruce's catalog.

2. Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, following the massive Rumours album. Tusk had to be a bit of a letdown after one of the biggest selling albums of all time, but again, I think it has really grown in stature over time.

Hope I understood the assignment, perfesser...

Sal Nunziato said...

Ed & Maui
Yeah, I couldn't really prove what I was feeling about "Essence" was universal. But revisiting it makes me wonder what I was thinking first time around.

"Tusk" for sure! That record felt like a real slog at the time and now it's often referred to as Lindsey's masterpiece.
As for Born In The USA, it's one of my least fave Bruce records and when Tunnel Of Love came out, I LURVED it! But, yeah...still a good choice.

Chris Collins said...

I'm glad you posted this because I was one of those fans who was utterly and completely in love with "Car Wheels" and then felt let down by "Essence". This makes me want to go back and listen again.

I love both of Troy's picks. I'd throw in "Goat's Head Soup"- although it's a bit tricky. I know that Exile ITSELF was a slow- grower in terms of reputation. But through most of my life "Goats Head" was seen as a major letdown after the 4 brilliant albums before it. I actually LOVE "Goat's Head Soup" and listen to it as much, if not more, than Exile, although I would still never rank it above that one. I still adore the record.

pmac said...

Was exiled in Lafayette, La right after Katrina. A couple of weeks afterwards, Lucinda was scheduled to play a concert there, but it was scrapped at the last minute due to all the chaos that was taking place there as a result of the mass infusion of exiles (like myself) to the area. Was really disappointed about missing the concert, since I had just lost basically everything I owned in the floods and nneded the distraction. Went to a bar close to what would have been the concert venue for her gig to drown my sorrows. Noticed a little bit of commotion at the opposite end, and next thing I know, a woman has broken out an acoustic guitar and starts to perform. Yep, Lucinda. Maybe a dozen people in the place, and she did a solo show for about 90 minutes. Was an amazing, cathartic, event for me.
Directly addressing your question Sal, I concur with the previous posters thoughts re Tusk and Tunnel of Love. Only other one to cross my nind is The Band's Northern Lights. It was the release after the glorious run of their first 6 albums, and many consider it to be their first dud. I loved it (still do).

Sal Nunziato said...

That's some story!

As for The Band, any record that includes "It Makes No Difference" can never be a dud in my world. But yeah...I get it.

pmac said...

Saw her last year at JF - did her set with Charles Lloyd, and played songs from the album they released. Really good show.
BTW - JF has released their full schedule for 2020. Locals are pretty much applauding it, since they appear to have made an effort to include many local acts that have been overlooked in the past (Mem Shannon and Marc Stone to name two).

Sal Nunziato said...

I'll be there.

jonder said...

You could just about nominate any album that followed the biggest hit of an artist's career. "Hard Promises" came first to my mind, then "Around The World In A Day".

My own "hot take" (as the kids say) on LW is that I thought her self-titled album was perfect, and "Sweet Old World" a very satisfactory follow up. I didn't understand why "Car Wheels" was considered a better album than either of those two. No strong feelings about "Essence", but "World Without Tears" was breathtakingly sad and sensual.

Sal Nunziato said...

"You could just about nominate any album that followed the biggest hit of an artist's career."

I don't think that's true at all. Take your Prince example. "Around The World" might have had a few hits, but I think the feeling now is the same as when it was released. It's fine, but it ain't no "Purple Rain." How about "Emotional Rescue" after "Some Girls?"

Dr Wu said...

Led Zeppelin’s ‘Presence’, Pink Floyd’s ‘Animals’, Queen’s ‘A Day at the Races’, Aerosmith’s ‘Draw the Line’: I believe many consider these the weak links in these bands’ legendary runs. But, I think some have begun to reevaluate and are beginning to recognize them as the legitimate classics they are. Perhaps due to almost never hearing many of these album’s songs in public, these albums remain fresh and open to discovery. They are all personal favorites.

Dr Wu said...

Sorry. Forgot Steely Dan’s ‘The Royal Scam’. Love that album!

kevin m said...

Zooropa, U2's excellent follow up to Achtung Baby. I think it's one of their best records.

Cleveland Jeff said...

For me Essence was a let-down after Car Wheels, but after returning to Essence many times, I find it to be an excellent, steamy record. And her live versions of songs from Essence are killers. It is easy for me to think of another artist in a similar situation, heck, every record that followed an artist's pinnacle gets severe scrutiny. How about His Band And The Street Choir after Astral Weeks and Moondance? For me, I go back to His Band And The Street Choir way more often that the other two, at least these days anyway. Is it better? Maybe the others have just been overplayed.

jonder said...

Sal, I take your point. I think Jeff's comment "every record that followed an artist's pinnacle gets severe scrutiny" is a better observation than mine.

jonder said...

Woke up this morning and thought, "Paul's Boutique"! Beastie Boys fans (and the record label) were nonplussed when that one came out, but it has grown in stature over the years.