Unlike the fairly lame Lucinda Williams live recording recently released on Lost Highway, this performance DVD from Williams's December 5, 1998, appearance on the Austin City Limits TV show has two major things going for it. First, Williams is backed by a killer band, including the awesome double-guitar assault of John Jackson and Kenny Vaughn, drummer Fran Breen and Randy Leago on Hammond. Second, the set was shot shortly after her breakthrough Car Wheels On A Gravel Road disc dropped, which means the songs here were drawn from her vastly superior early- to mid-career work rather than the Seussian pap of Essence and beyond.
Although Williams maintains a characteristic deer-in-the-headlights look onstage, with pretty much no banter other than muttering the title of each song, the sonic clarity of the recording is pristine, and she selects pretty much her best work, with a healthy dollop of Car Wheels' impeccably detailed narratives like Drunken Angel, Lake Charles and Right In Time, heartbreaker ballads Greenville, Sweet Old World and Jackson and a raw, bluesy cover of Lil' Son Jackson's Disgusted that almost - but not quite - makes her grin. The highlight by far, though, is the eight-minute ragged-ass roots rock jam on Joy, during which Williams shakes her bony ass as much as she can. An essential representation of Williams at her best.