Four years on from World Without Tears comes this studio album from Lucinda Williams, her eighth in a 37-year career - she doesn't rush. It's inspired by a period that took in her mother's death and the end of a love affair. The predominant theme is pain, and no one does pain as eloquently as Williams - or as multifariously. West is all musical mood swings: from stoic, heartbreak country to fierce revenge rock, retro pop to folk, poetry to rap, mellow California to dark LA rock.
Roots-rock queen Lucinda Williams begins West, her ninth album, inquiring after a troubled pal, repeating her query like a mantra: ”Are you alright?/Is there something been bothering you/Are you alright?/I wish you’d give me a little clue.” Her concern sounds empathetic, but you may suspect the ”friend” she’s addressing in ”Are You Alright?” is really herself. Because she spends the rest of the CD forming her own answer, which is pretty much…No. ”Pain courses through every vein, every limb”; joy is ”vanished” in one song, ”dead” in another.
The title of West reflects the change in Lucinda Williams' life as she moved to Los Angeles. It also reflects what had been left behind. Williams is nothing if not a purely confessional songwriter. She continually walks in the shadowlands to bring out what is both most personal yet universal in her work, to communicate to listeners directly and without compromise.
A decade ago, no Lucinda Williams fan could have imagined that West would be her third album in six years. She was, after all, the poster girl for artists who took their sweet time but delivered stunning results. Here she's working through another difficult breakup in producer Hal Willner's softer hues of rainy-day jazz, muted R&B, and ethereal Americana, not the stinging blues and bizarre quasi-rap of 2003's World Without Tears.