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Lucinda Williams: Songs full of hurtin', lovin'

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IN A CAREER that spans 25 years, Lucinda Williams has released only six albums of (mostly) original material. The notoriously meticulous Louisiana-born singer-songwriter has been a tad more prolific in recent years, but she's already got a catalog that's notable for its quality and consistency. Her distinctive drawl and the grit-and-grime detail of her songs have made critics weak in the knees for years. Apparently, her fans feel the same since her Botanical Garden show tonight is sold out. But if you want to get a taste from all of her releases, these are the tunes we'd pick.

1. "Greenville" --- Williams uses one of her prettiest tunes to tell a bad-tempered ex to "go on back to Greenville."

2. "Passionate Kisses" --- This one's better known from the hit version recorded by Mary Chapin Carpenter, and that killer chorus will ensure that this tune will be covered by many more artists in years to come.

3. "Righteously" --- One of her grittiest rockers is also among the most sensual songs she's ever recorded. The sexy Southern sultriness of her voice is awe-inspiring.

4. "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" --- Williams rides on a Southern groove as Hank and Loretta drift from the radio, a screen door slams and the gravel crunches beneath the tires.

5. "Side of the Road" --- A yearning fiddle drifts atop this plea for space and solitude that also seems like an affirmation of love.

6. "Essence" --- A slow-burning tale of romantic obsession from her quietest album, "Essence."

7. "Lafayette" --- A love letter to Louisiana with shout-outs to everything from gumbo to zydeco pioneer Clifton Chenier. (Also check out "Lake Charles.")

8. "Changed the Locks" --- A bluesy kiss-off in which the narrator changes everything, down to the tracks under the train, to get away from a lover that still inspires an unhealthy attraction.

9. "Sweet Old World" --- Death, especially suicide, haunts the album "Sweet Old World." In the title track, the pain is soothed by the gorgeous melody and Williams' gentle delivery.

10. "Little Angel, Little Brother" --- A sad, sweet tale of a life that took a wrong turn. This tragic tune earns its tears without a hint of schmaltz. > THE 411: Lucinda Williams. 7:30 p.m. today. Sold out. Atlanta Botanical Garden, 1345 Piedmont Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-876-5859, www.atlanta

Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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