Back Porch Music Album Reviews: Lucinda Williams and The Olllam

Mar 28, 2014

Lucinda Williams album cover

Here's another installment of Back Porch Music album reviews. We're posting these periodically here with two or three CD reviews each week and we hope you enjoy them. Leave your comments below. 

Lucinda Williams - self titled

"Classic" as an adjective gets used so often that when something really is a classic album the term nearly loses its meaning. In this case, though, we've got ourselves a bona fide classic: it stands the test of time. Released in 1988 it was Lucinda Williams' third commercial release, her first in 8 years. The self-title release announced her mature arrival.

It's a remarkable album that skillfully mixes country, blues, rock, and folk singer-songwriter elements in a tough, vital, and satisfying way. The release contains her Grammy-awarding winning "Passionate Kisses" that became a hit for Mary Chapin Carpenter. Emmylou Harris and others have released covers of songs from this album over the last 25 years.

There's so much emotional punch in this album that at times it's almost overwhelming. This 25th anniversary release includes a bonus CD of a 1989 concert from Holland that gives you a good sense of her live shows from that era.

In some circles, Lucinda has a rep for being difficult to work with and headstrong.  She's had some tussles with record execs over the years and this time around she's doing it her way fully. The anniversary release came out on Lucinda Williams Records. It was re-released in late January 2014.

Highly recommended.

The Olllam - self titled

The Olllam album

The Olllam, a modern Celtic trio, take their name from on old Irish word that basically means "master of a trade." A quirk of this release is that every time you encounter the letter "l" in a song title it's trebled. So, we find tunes such as "The Belll" and "The Devilll For My Hurt." (This of course, throws the spell checker into a tizzy.) Their music, thankfully, is as individualistic as their spelling.*

The Olllam are a trio of bright, energetic trans-Atlantic Celtic players: ulleann pipe and whistle players Tyler Duncan (from Detroit)  and John McSherry (from Belfast), joined by percussionist Michael Shimmin (also from Detroit). Together they create a contemporary sound that swims in a deep past.

The album evolved out of Skype sessions, emails, and texts between these three friends. There are moments where you hear echoes of a Celtic past that spin through a contemporary trance drive that have reminded a few reviewers of Radiohead or Coldplay.

After a short opener the album launches into "The Bellls," a whistle and drum-driven tune with a haunting melody that clocks in at nearly 7 minutes; it sticks and remains long after the tune ends suddenly and starkly.

"The Follly of Wisdom" is also a killer track that propels along with a regular and strong back beat set against a contemporary acoustic guitar strum and parallel electric guitar breaks.

This one's a real keeper.

*(or, is that spellling?)