CD Review: Lucinda Williams, Blessed

I’ll just come right out and say it: This is the best Lucinda Williams album since “Essence.” The songs on “Blessed,” her 10th studio album, are inspired, varied and contain some of her best writing in years. It’s an emotional album, with songs about a spectrum of loss and love, sung with depth and played with both subletly and with fire.

The album opener, “Buttercup,” tells a lover goodbye, with a nasty sneer and an electric guitar and organ backing. The next two songs, “Copenhagen” and “Born to Be Loved,” are softer in heart and in tempo. The former mourns the loss of a friend from afar, while the latter is a nice, slow blues ballad. The lyrics are simple: “You weren’t born to be mistreated/And you weren’t born to be misguided/You were born to be loved /You were born to be loved.” It reminds me a lot of songs like “I Envy the Wind” from “Essence,” where she repeats phrases and feelings for emphasis.

“Seeing Black,’’ written to Vic Chestnutt, who committed suicide on Christmas Day 2009 is, excuse the pun, a killer. Like “Drunken Angel” – which was written about the demise of musician and friend Blaze Foley on her acclaimed “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” album – “Seeing Black” is rife with not only sadness but an anger directed at the man for leaving life too early.
“Soldier’s Song,” sung to perfection in Lucinda’s tired drawl, is written from the perspective of a soldier overseas, with lyrical images that trade off between the tragic life in combat and thoughts of his family back home: “I hear echoes of shots/Baby’s only thinkin’ sweet thoughts /Why the hell did they send me here to fight?/Baby kisses my picture and turns off the light.” It’s a poignant reminder of what some families are currently going through.

The album, in general, has some nice guitar flourishes. Redemption song “Blessed” is sparked by some crisp electric playing and “Ugly Truth” offers some tasty licks.

The gospel-ish “Convince Me,” features a soulful organ and searing guitar, and the closing love song, “Kiss Like Your Kiss,” is a perfect ending to a superb emotionally wrought album.

One more note: If you get the deluxe version of “Blessed,” you get a second set of the songs, stripped down to their bare bones. Williams dubbed these “The Kitchen Tapes,” just her voice and her guitar. Some of the songs, including the opener, “Buttercup,’’ a rocker on the album, is really great in its skeletal form. It’s worth the extra, minor investment to purchase them as well.

 

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