“There’s only a few things you can write about,” Lucinda Williams told New York magazine in 2005. “Life, death, love, sex.” Williams, whom TIME named America’s best songwriter in 2001, excels at all four, but in death she has no equal. “Pineola,” recorded for her 1992 album Sweet Old World, is the story of a suicide precipitously close to Williams’ heart; the song captures that first wave of grief, the one that knocks you down and propels you out of mind and body. (“I think I must’ve picked up a handful of dust and let it fall over his grave,” she sings twice at the end—as if repeating it will make the memory true.) What makes “Pineola” great is Williams’ hallmark bluesy toughness; the same teeth that snap in vengeful classics like “Changed the Locks” are gritted here in disbelief. Most songwriters would risk taking you to such depths of pain only if they planned to pull you back out. But most songwriters aren’t Lucinda Williams.
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