Lucinda Williams has been bringing those elements together since the onset of her career, which was launched back in the early '80s with a pair of acclaimed albums for Smithsonian/Folkways. She honed the spartan approach established on those discs on a self-titled 1988 collection that brought her to wider attention -- with listeners as well as with fellow performers like Mary Chapin Carpenter, who had a hit (and helped Lucinda win a Grammy) with the disc's ""Passionate Kisses.""
Having decided that she'd been doing ""the singer-songwriter thing by default,"" Williams took off in something of a new direction during the '90s, issuing the slow-burning Sweet Old World -- a disc that, as much as any release, helped place the Americana movement at the forefront of listeners' minds -- and cementing her own spot in the cultural lexicon with 1998's rough-hewn masterpiece Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.
That disc earned Williams a Grammy as a performer, and -- true to form -- inspired her to shift gears again for Essence (2001), a sensual, burnished offering that prompted Time magazine to dub her ""America's Best Songwriter,"" a title she upheld righteously two years later in 2003 with World Without Tears.
In recent times, Williams has broadened her palette even further through frequent collaborations with kindred spirits -- acts as varied as The North Mississippi All-Stars and Flogging Molly -- who share her uncommon sense of non-revivalist traditionalism. That combination of rootsiness and restlessness runs through West like a raging rapid, cutting out craggy soundscapes that beckon listeners inexorably -- as on ""Unsuffer Me,"" perhaps the album's most overtly bluesy offering.
That quest is at the center of each of West's songs -- and Williams' unflagging ability to embark upon it openheartedly from so many directions lends an unambiguously timeless feel to the disc, a sense that it can be app
|It's long been said that the blues -- in all its forms -- is one of the most potent means to transform pain into beauty. Lucinda Williams has known that since she began devouring music as a youngster growing up in Louisiana, and she's been finding new ways to perform that alchemical reaction ever since.|
With West, a disc that may well be Williams' most personal work to date, the singer-songwriter channels both her emotion and restive creative energy into a startling set of songs that touch on both darkness and redemption. At turns strikingly spare and compellingly muscular, the album's 13 cuts attest to her willingness to stretch as a musician -- and to put herself on the line as a chronicler of life.
There's no disputing the sense of struggle that imbues songs like "Fancy Funeral" -- a ballad with a gentle lilt that can't mask the disillusionment of a narrator trying to make a case for the meaninglessness of such an affair. Nor can one miss the ache in "Mama You Sweet," a raw-but-right rumination on what remains after the loss of a loved one.
On the other hand, West is rife with songs that serve to enliven and affirm, albeit in decidedly non-Hallmark fashion. The fiery "Come On" -- a kiss-off tune in the mode of Bob Dylan's "Positively 4th Street" -- uses a stinging guitar hook to grab the listener by the lapels, all the better for Williams to deliver a knockout blow with a flurry of acerbic, double-entendre lyrics. There's a similarly edgy vibe at play in "Wrap My Head Around That," which stalks stealthily for nine minutes of hypnotic rhythm -- goosed along by Bill Frisell's serpentine guitar -- that matches Williams' sharp wordplay at every turn.
The envelope-pushing sonics on those songs can be attributed to Williams' recent listening patterns -- an eclectic list that includes Thievery Corporation and M.I.A in addition to The Black Keys and White Stripes -- as well as the collaborative relationship she developed with the album's co-producer, Hal Willner.
This title contains exclusive Lucinda Williams bonus audio tracks!