Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lucinda Williams Blessed 2011

A new Lucinda Williams record is always welcome news around my place. This one qualifies, no suspense necessary. Is it Car Wheels On A Gravel Road? No, and nothing else is either. Not by Lucinda, not by anybody. If that's your yardstick, nothing will measure up.

Lucinda Williams is first a lyricist (and the lyrical content of this record is exemplary- as good as it gets), second a singer (and the close-miked, up front sound of her ragged rasp is perfect), and third a songwriter (and mostly this is a solid effort, although additional melody or at least pace could have helped a few songs).

The production by Don Was, Eric Lijestrand, and Thomas Overby, is ideally suited to Lucinda. Lots of atmosphere, beautiful, slowly emerging arrangements, and that up-front-in-the-mix vocal work to wonderful effect. The band is way beyond highly skilled. The bass and drums of David Sutton and Butch Norton lay down a solid foundation on which the twin lead guitars of Greg Leisz and Val McCallum bounce and spin and rock and generally do all the things that two great guitarist can do when they seem to be playing with one highly developed brain. Add to that Rami Jaffe's organ, piano, and accordion flourishes that are spot on every time, and you've got one smoking hot ensemble.

Buttercup is a bitter rocker, a story of a bad man who hardly deserves to find a mate. Lucinda sneers "Good luck finding your buttercup" in the chorus, and it's easy to hear where she's coming from. I Don't Know How You're Living is one of those deeply emotional lyrics that Lucinda does better than anyone. Raw. Pure. Beautiful and pained. Copenhagen is a lonely, airy ballad of loss that benefits from the phenomenal band.

Born To Be Loved is a slow, repetitive trance of a song that sounds like a lyric that Lucinda has been trying to write for years. The loud angry rocker Seeing Black is another strong lyric strapped to a typical Williams melody that is saved by the big southern rock twin-guitar lead break. It's also one of only two real rocking songs on the record, and that's an important point. Track five of twelve and the energy never gets this high again. It's not a bad thing, but it might have helped to have one more upbeat tune to keep things moving. It's a minor gripe.

Soldier's Song is a heavy anti-war song of the most personal kind. A lyrical tour-de-force, alternating lines between a soldier's actions and those of his "baby" at home to an Essence-like trance, the song is intensely moving. On the heels of that, Blessed weaves slow gospel blues with another exceptional lyric, and two-guitar interplay rocks out the ending. Sweet Love follows, and it's a great lyric hung on a slow balled that deserved a better melody and a quicker pace. Another melodic underachiever, Ugly Truth, follows, and it's an OK country tune, and again a strong lyric. Convince Me is a slowing building rocker, and a lovely plea for security. Elvis Costello guests on guitar to unusually good effect, and Jaffe's organ is killer.

Awakening is another slow start that develops into a scronky twin guitar cooker. It's again a little weak in the melody department and is barely saved by the fine band's embellishments. Killer lyric, though. The record ends with Kiss Like Your Kiss, a slow, sad, painful wisp of a song that could have been another Passionate Kisses with a different, more up-tempo arrangement.

When I first heard it, I felt that Essence lacked energy, and yet I find myself more captivated by that 2001 classic every time I hear it today ten years later. This one might be alot like that. There is so much fine, really incredible lyrical depth here, the band are amazingly talented, and William's expressive voice is in fine form. There may be too many slower songs, but they're very fine slow songs.

When Williams sings "Please, please, please, convince me", you can hear her need, and that's the raw, unprotected power you can't find many places these days.

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