116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Rehab and rock typically means detoxing from alcohol or drugs. But singer/songwriter extraordinaire Lucinda Williams experienced another type of rehab after suffering a stroke in November of 2020.
Williams, 69, has been working with physical and occupational therapists for nearly two years.
“I have so much respect for PTs and OTs,” Williams said while calling from her Nashville home. “I did so much rehab and I’m doing well.”
The stroke impacted the left side of her body. Williams, who will perform Tuesday night in Iowa City’s Englert Theatre, isn’t strumming her guitar live yet.
“My left hand hurts too much,” she said. “I still have pain in my fingers. My right hand is fine, but my left hand isn’t nimble enough to make chords. But my band has my back musically. I’m getting better. I’m not where I want to be, but I’m pretty anxious to get back, so I’m starting the tour.”
Williams is out behind her latest album, “Good Souls Better Angels,” which was released in April of 2020. Many of her peers decided to hold off the release of their albums during the pandemic, but it’s not surprising that Williams let her project drop during lockdown.
“I just wanted to put the album out,” she said. “It’s kind of like how I couldn’t wait to perform, even if I’m not playing guitar. I’m not a very patient person.”
“Good Souls Better Angels,” which features Williams’ road band, guitarist Stuart Mathis, bassist David Sutton and drummer Butch Norton, is filled with sensual, earnest tunes that are often poignant and sometimes melancholy. Williams impresses with the inspiring anthemic cut “You Can’t Rule Me” and the clever “Man Without a Soul,” both of which are inspired by Donald Trump.
“Good Souls Better Angels” is one of Williams’ finest albums, but it has to be, since she set an enviable standard with 1998’s “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.” Her breakthrough release earned critical acclaim, topping the prestigious Village Voice “Pazz and Jop” critics’ poll. “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” also won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
“I set the bar so high with ‘Car Wheels,’ so every time I write and record, ‘Car Wheels’ and what I accomplished is on my mind,” Williams said. “I ask myself if the songs are good or better than ‘Car Wheels.’ I was the critics’ darling with the release of that album, but I didn’t get caught up in that. I got caught up in the songwriting, which has to be on a certain level.”
Williams co-wrote songs with her husband, Tom Overby, who also is her manager. The former music executive focused on business exclusively until “Good Souls Better Angels.”
“I did think about what people would say when it came to me working with my husband,” Williams said. “But what popped into my mind is that Tom Waits wrote with his wife, Kathleen (Brennan). It impressed me that her name was on there as a co-writer. I thought if Tom Waits can do it, so can I.
“But me working with Tom was an organic process. He was always interested in creative writing. I didn't know about that for years. He would bring me stuff, some lines, some ideas. He was very shy about it at first. He would say, ‘I just wrote this. Maybe you can use it.’ It's been working for me,” Williams said.
It’s not easy for her to assemble a set list after crafting 15 albums of Americana. But Overby helps his wife with that, and Williams also leaves it up to her fans, who can request tunes on her website, lucindawilliams.com.
“Tom has always been really good at putting a set list together,” Williams said. “I have final say over it, and it always works out well.”
After her tour ends in October, Williams will focus on writing songs for her next album.
“We'll be headed back to the studio soon,” she said. “I’m already looking forward to the next album. I’m also looking forward to my left hand getting back to where it should be. I’ve done my best to overcome everything, but I’m trying to just stay in the moment and just enjoy going out on the road again.”