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Lucinda Williams

In recent interviews, singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams has protested that she's not the notorious perfectionist that legend would have it. She also has acknowledged, however, that her choosiness meant losing all the upbeat "hits" from her recent double-CD live collection, recorded during a three-night stand at San Francisco's legendary Fillmore Auditorium.

So, there's no "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road." There's no "Sweet Old World," and, by God, no "Passionate Kisses." They're not missed. These discs prove concerts by Williams are often works of art in real time. Live at the Fillmore focuses on songs from Williams' two most recent studio albums, Essence and World Without Tears, and therefore, these performances lean heavily toward the poetic, melancholy aspects of Williams' Louisiana-by-way-of-Texas, country-blues-rock-gospel hybrid.

Williams is blessed with a superb band that provides poignant settings for their boss' meditations, and eventually explodes with rock 'n' roll fervor when unleashed on such tracks as "Change the Locks," "Joy" and "Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings." Even the restrained tunes always hide, beneath their gentle surfaces, genuine, complicated emotions that boil with fervor. And she does so in a voice that American Idol's judges would dismiss. Williams growls, barks, rasps and drawls; she slurs her words, allows her voice to crack, drifts out of key. No matter how she chooses to sing a song, it's invariably exactly what that song needs.

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