Lucinda Williams can never fully leave Louisiana behind.
In so many of her acclaimed albums, including Grammy winners “Car Wheels on Gravel Road” and “The Ghosts of Highway 20,” her folks miss their Louisiana towns.
They long for Lafayette, where they “dance all night to a sweet Cajun song,” or Lake Charles, about which an old boyfriend would “just go on and on.”
“It’s a really special place, and there isn’t another place like it in the country,” Williams said of Louisiana.
Williams’ work evokes the droning lawn mower motors and mosquito bites of south Louisiana summers, which she often juxtaposes with the darker sides of Southern life.
Williams returns to Louisiana on Monday to perform at the Acadiana Center for the Arts.
When she was born in 1953, her father, poet Miller Williams, taught at McNeese State in Lake Charles. He was at LSU and Loyola University in the 1960s.
“When we were living in Baton Rouge in 1965, that was a pivotal year,” Williams said. “That was when I discovered Bob Dylan. That was when his 'Highway 61 Revisited' album came out. That was the year I started taking guitar lessons.”
Living in Arkansas with her dad in the early 1970s, she came to visit her mother in New Orleans and began performing for tips at a Bourbon Street bar where the owner favored folk music.
“That was a huge turning point,” Williams said. “I called my dad. I was supposed to go back to college in the fall. I told him I had gotten this gig and I wanted to stay there. He understood.”
Williams has been thinking about the past a lot lately. She plans to publish a memoir and is meeting with publishers about her proposal.
“It’s kind of like making a demo tape before getting a record deal,” she said.
Before coming to Louisiana, Williams talked with The Advocate about her life in the state and her songwriting.
Why does Louisiana continue to hold a special place in your work?
It’s just so visual. It’s culturally rich and visual. New Orleans has that European feel, and it’s one of the oldest cities in the country. It just has all that history. It goes a lot further back. There are just a few cities like that in the country that go back.
You write lovingly about the South, but you also include the dark aspects of the culture in songs like “Louisiana Song,” which contrasts a child’s happy memories with scenes of domestic violence and fire-and-brimstone preaching. What shaped this viewpoint?
Part of it is living there. Part of it was discovering Flannery O'Connor. Her and Eudora Welty, you know?
Flannery O’Connor, my dad considered her his greatest teacher. During the time we lived in Macon in the early ’60s, he took me to Milledgeville, Georgia, which is where O’Connor lived. He had a meeting with her. I was only 4 or 5 or so.
When I got to be a teenager, I started reading her stuff and just ate it up. It all made sense to me. She wrote about these really weird, kind of absurd characters, and it didn’t seem like anything strange to me — that Southern Gothic thing. I realized later just in the last several years how much her writing influenced my songwriting. But my dad’s poetry also. I really got into Southern writers.
Did Flannery O’Connor have her peacocks then?
I vaguely remember. He went in to meet her, and I ran around in the yard chasing peacocks around. I like to think that the spirit of Flannery kind of seeped into my psyche at the age of 5.
Your newest album, “This Sweet Old World,” is a rerecording of an earlier album. It sounds like a really good live album with more driving guitars, and the songs have a different energy. Why did you choose to record an album a second time?
It was 25 years old. It was like doing a new album, really. It’s all the same songs, but my voice is different — better, I think. The production is so much better and all that. It’s an interesting concept.
The main incentive for it was the anniversary of the album. It kind of fell in the cracks. It kind of got forgotten about a little bit. It never took off like some of my other albums did.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday
WHERE: Acadiana Center for the Arts, 101 W. Vermilion St., Lafayette
COST: $68-$88 for members, $70-$90 for non-members