Release Date: Mar 1, 2011
Record label: Lost Highway
Genre(s): Country, Folk, Americana, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Country-Rock, Alternative Folk
2008's Little Honey was Williams at her most content. But on her 10th disc, she revives the literary realism that's turned so many of her songs into true-talk crushers. The quietly heartbreaking "Soldier's Song" is an imagining of home from the front lines, and even humid evocations of romantic awakening (like the soul study "Kiss Like Your Kiss") suggest rapture might break her.
Back in 1980, when she was just starting to find herself as a songwriter and singer, Williams chose to title her second album Happy Woman Blues; too bad, because that phrase perfectly describes her latest effort. Now trusting the sense of contentment brought on by a sustaining and sustainable long-term relationship, Williams has freed herself up to shift her focus outward, so that her acute sensitivity comes to bear on the plights of others, both those she holds dear and those whose personal tragedies she can only imagine—which is how and why this happy woman has the blues. Here on Blessed, she completes the transition, begun on 2009’s Little Honey, from picking at her own psychological scabs to resting a soothing hand on another’s fevered brow, as this gifted and mature writer pens a resonant batch of songs that get at every nuance of her empathy, to immensely powerful effect.
From its cover in, Lucinda Williams' Blessed stands out. It title is readily visible in color photographs of anonymous citizens holding handmade signs, yet her name appears nowhere but the spine. The songs on Blessed are equally jarring: they offer sophisticated changes in her lyric oeuvre, extending their reach beyond first-person narratives of unrequited love and loss.
Singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams’ discography spans ten studio albums over three decades and several musical styles. As Chris Klimek wrote a few years ago in a Washington Post concert review, “she’s a little Hank Williams, a little John Coltrane, a little Chet Baker and a little Loretta Lynn.” Those comparisons are on point, but she is also much more than the sum of her influences. She more or less spelled out what she does best in the title of her first album of original songs, 1980’s Happy Woman Blues.
Lucinda Williams has a Grammy-winning career and a voice that crackles like late nights and alcohol. And Blessed takes us firmly down that expected country-rock highway—foot pressed nicely on the pedal, no bends in the road. This doesn’t make for the most tenacious album, but it’s peppered with flashes of strength and vulnerability. “Buttercup” is a whiskey-soaked lullaby with swirling organs powering under accomplished chops and a feel-good tempo.
Blessed, the roots-music veteran’s latest feels a little sleepy compared with 2008’s hard-rocking Little Honey. Though she delivers heartfelt laments like ”I Don’t Know How You’re Livin”’ with an impressive candor, Williams sometimes gets lost in the velvet-twang arrangements. One exception is ”Seeing Black,” a bitter rave-up inspired by her pal Vic Chesnutt”s recent suicide; there she even holds her own against a vinegary guitar solo from Elvis Costello.
LUCINDA WILLIAMS plays Massey Hall Friday and Saturday (March 4 and 5). See listing. Rating: NNN Buttercup opens Lucinda Williams's new album, and it's exactly what we've come to expect from the enduring American songwriter: a country-rockin' kiss-off to some inconsiderate jerk who, in this instance, "sucked her dry." Why does she keep getting involved with these types? We're talking almost a whole catalogue of done-me-wrong tunes.
A marked rebound from 2006’s deadly dull West and 2008’s uneven Little Honey, Blessed finds Lucinda Williams remembering that she’s supposed to be one of America’s greatest songwriters. Since she started churning out albums every couple of years with 2001’s Essence, Williams hasn’t always proven as sharp or consistent in her writing. To that end, Blessed is another mixed bag, but its strongest cuts are easily the best that she’s recorded since the landmark Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, and that’s cause for some celebration.
The 2000s were Lucinda Williams' most prolific decade, as well as her most conflicted. She released four studio albums and one double live, more than matching her output for the previous two decades combined. Drifting away from country music (which had little use for her as a songwriter or as a performer) and toward a gritty strain of roots rock, Williams grew more confessional in her lyrics, which have grown blatantly autobiographical and have coalesced into a larger story built around her romantic ups and downs.
In the time between the West–Little Honey-era and Blessed, a lot has changed in Lucinda Williams’s world. After a tumultuous period marked by her mother’s death and a turbulent end to a lengthy relationship, the alt-country songwriter has found herself in a much better and more serene place. Williams has married, rekindled a longtime love of collaboration and has entered another prime songwriting run.
One of America’s finest songwriters releases another recommended collection. Nick Barraclough 2011. You don’t often hear a track that speeds up these days. Studio techniques and protocols now seem to make such things impossible. The title-track of this album speeds up, though. And that, I would ….
Some of the six years between Lucinda Williams' twin catalog pillars, 1992's Sweet Old World and 1998's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, could have been spared to pad out the intermission between Blessed and its predecessor, 2008's Little Honey. In the aftermath of Car Wheels, Williams rambled for a decade with Essence (2001), World Without Tears ('03), and West ('07). Blessed doesn't sting like Little Honey, but if opener "Buttercup" sloshes frivolously first as an excuse for Williams to suck on its title with thick-tongued relish, that bottles Little Honey's loose fun.