Lucinda Williams – Blessed

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I’d decided a couple years ago that I was done with Lucinda Williams.  Though infrequent, her 1990’s releases were amazingly honest and musically honed, all but perfect expressions of the considerable somethings that Williams has to say.  After what many regard as her creative masterpiece, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998), she seemed to lose her way, plying her perfectionist ways to lyrics that seemed to matter less.  With West (2007), the complexity of the arrangements, while beautiful, were eventually revealed as a balm over what lyrically connected less.  I stopped listening.  And, with Little Honey (2008), a bit of happiness in her life, not apparent in much of her writing, resulted in a decidedly mixed bag.

Or, maybe I was done with her because she makes no effort to be likable in concert.

Still, when she’s at her best, she’s very enjoyable, and it’s hard not to take a peek, so to speak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blessed surprises as a more than solid return to form, very much the album fans would have expected following Car Wheels rather than Essence (2001), which remains a testament to the difficulty of remaining inspired.

The immediacy of Williams writing draws the listener in.  Her songs are about her and the way she feels about another person.  Certainly the words are crafted carefully, but they’re never filtered.  It’s authentic.  And when she’s on her game, as she is here, she’s pretty straightforward lyrically and musically in making her message clear.

“Buttercup,” seemingly a sweet suggestion, opens the CD with a fairly typical, for Williams, kiss-off of another poor choice in guys.

The first time I saw you / you made me melt

The last time I saw you / you hit below the belt

You might have a beautiful mouth / you might have beautiful eyes

But sooner or later it all goes south / When you tell too many lies

“I Don’t Know How You’re Livin’” tells a dispirited flip side of a committed investment in bettering another, only to find that the person won’t respond.

The theme of loss continues with “Copenhagen,” where a place becomes forever associated with the news that someone close has died.

“Born to Be Loved” sounds like a message of hope and purpose that needs to be shared, but each stanza reflects on the opposite poles, bringing a sense that the person hearing the message may already be too bloodied to rise up.

Only questions remain in “Seeing Black,” musically and lyrically reflecting the angst and exasperation following a friend’s suicide. 

Want more?

“Soldier’s Song” reflects on the dichotomy, as expressed within alternating verses, between the routines of the family life left behind against the soldier’s immersion in the frightening abnormalities of battle.

“Blessed.”  Ah, blessed.  The inserted lyric booklet includes photos from people in all walks of life holding signs reading “Blessed.”  Maybe they all are.  I hope so.  The lyrics point to people across bipartisan sympathies, citing examples that speak to the good that exists if we stop to pay attention.  Or listen to the lyric, while tapping your foot to a building lead guitar.

Not alone in a brighter light, this is followed by “Sweet Love,” a sincerity for which Hallmark pines.  The music similarly doesn’t seek a sheen, but shines in its authenticity.

“Ugly Truth” is one of those songs that Williams excels at, putting someone at the receiving end of a lyrical rifle shot, without the popcorn and butter flavoring that makes “You’re So Vain” easy to digest.

The repetitious nature of “Convince Me” counters the verbal plea for comfort, suggesting a request that can’t be met.

If that bodes of a reckoning, “The Awakening” hints not of a judgment day, but a point at which a love will move her beyond the sins of her past to living anew.  The music in this song affects a funereal tone, all the while building to the dramatic change that would unfold at such a time.

Fittingly, the CD closes with “Kiss Like Your Kiss,” a moment, at least, beyond the worries and mistakes.

For those who wonder why someone would want to listen to so much negativity, it’s Williams’ authenticity and ability to express herself that is rewarding.  This is not one of those CDs where a couple of songs should be thrown into the iPod playlist while the rest wither away.  By and large, the songs aren’t structured for single enjoyment.  It’s a work as a whole, one that should be experienced while focused on the lyrics for a time, which may eventually lead to a song or three that should be carried with you.  It’s focused, rich and affecting… or, Lucinda Williams at her best.

Favorites: “Seeing Black” and “The Awakening”

4 of 5 STARS

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