Singer/songwriter Michael McDonald headlines the Aug. 27 Britt show.

Star performers light up Britt

It's an embarrassment of riches this week for the Britt Festivals, with Michael McDonald and Lucinda Williams returning to the hillside in Jacksonville Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 27 and 28, respectively, and Willie Nelson performing at the Lithia Motors Amphitheater Saturday, Aug. 30.

The Willie Nelson show starts at 7:30 p.m. It's a cliche — but true in his case — to say that he needs no introduction. So let's look at the other two. Britt has plenty of tickets remaining for both.

Williams, who played to a smallish Britt crowd in 2005, was famously called "America's best songwriter" in 2001 by Time magazine. She began her career in the early 1980s with two acclaimed albums for Smithsonian/Folkways and gained a wider audience with the self-titled 1988 collection that included her "Passionate Kisses," which became a huge hit for Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Her latest, "West," is a highly personal work of 13 cuts running from darkness to redemption. She's better known for the dark tunes, although she doesn't think that's quite fair.

"I get tired of people looking at my songs and feeling that they're all sad and dark," she says in a release. "There's more to them than that."

She says she's come through a metamorphosis, and that the album, which undeniably has its dark side, is also philosophical, and even comical.

"Fancy Funeral" is a gentle ballad in which the disillusioned narrator tries to make the case for a meaningless affair. "Come On" is a kiss-off song in the mode of vintage Dylan. "Mama You Sweet" is a meditation on what's left after the death of a loved one. "Unsuffer Me" is perhaps the CD's bluesiest offering.

Many of Williams' best songs have an aura of hard-won wisdom, and the new ones are no exception. Williams says they're straight from life. The singer's mother died recently, and a relationship ended badly.

"The songs deal with a chapter in my life and definitely tell a story," she says.

Williams' "Sweet Old World" helped launch the Americana movement in music in the '90s, and she followed that with 1998's masterful "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road."

Opening for Williams will be The Waifs and The Avett Brothers. The Waifs play Australian folk/honkytonk ballads. The Avett Brothers play original, rootsy, acoustic music.

McDonald, who performed to a sold-out Britt house in 1994, is probably best-known as a Doobie Brother. But the 56-year-old had a long and varied musical career since moving from his native Missouri to Los Angeles in 1970. The husky-voiced, blue-eyed, tenor/soul singer has also done notable work with Steely Dan and as a solo artist.

McDonald sang back-up vocals on Steely Dan's "Katy Lied" (1975), then returned for 1976's "The Royal Scam" and cuts on the 1977 hit album "Aja." He also played keyboards and toured with the band in the early '70s.

In 1975 when lead singer Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers got sick on tour, McDonald stepped in, and that was that. It was as a Doobie that McDonald cut some of his best-known songs, such as "Takin' It to the Streets," "It Keeps You Runnin'," and "Minute by Minute." He also sang and played piano for artists like Christopher Cross, Jack Jones, Bonnie Raitt and others.

More than once, McDonald has reunited with both the Doobies and Steely Dan, the latter most recently on their 2006 summer tour.

McDonald's first solo album, "If That's What It Takes," came in 1982, featured the hits "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)," a duet with his sister Maureen, and "I Gotta Try," which he co-wrote with Kenny Loggins. He had a hit in 1990 with "Take It To Heart" and earned two Grammy nominations in 2003 for his album "Motown."

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