Album Review: Lucinda Williams – Blessed

Blake Boldt | March 1st, 2011

Lucinda Williams - BlessedLucinda Williams, one of the great American artists of her time, finally seems willing to be consoled. On her eighth studio album, Blessed, she devotes her energy to getting all the anger out of her system. The result is a milestone in an already matchless repertoire.

Working with Don Was and Little Honey producer Eric Liljestrand, Williams offers an intense set of roots rock that nonetheless allows some sense of emotional reprieve. Listen to songs like “Kiss Like Your Kiss,” a sultry duet with Elvis Costello, and the accordian-kissed “Sweet Love,” and you can see how romantic contentment (Williams married in 2009) has smoothed off some of her rough edges.

Though Blessed has been seen as a more uplifting turn from Williams, her woes are far from over. Old demons, immortalized in her clever melodies, seem to be the doing of a lowlife ex-lover. The opening track, “Buttercup,” unloads her fury over a probing backbeat: “The last time I saw you, it hit below the belt.” Conversely, on the graceful country-folk ballad “I Don’t Know How You’re Living,” she discovers that anger can’t always quell the pain.

Williams has always explored ancient themes of love and loss with a special insight, but this time she turns outward to discuss social issues. The threat of war resonates deeply (“Soldier’s Song”) and so too does the thought of society’s most powerful voices being silenced (“Blessed”).

Mourning the loss of a pair of musical peers, Williams spends two songs reconciling her feelings about death. On “Copenhagen,” a gentle memorial for longtime manager Frank Callari, it’s as if she can only speak in hushed tones. Set to an arrangement of piano and pedal steel, the song captures her bittersweet memories in the moments after she heard the news. Then the hard-driving “Seeing Black” contemplates the 2009 suicide of songwriter Vic Chesnutt. As Costello reels off a series of snarling guitar riffs, you can hear the confusion in her mournful gasp. “Did you lose your compass to get out of this place?” she asks. “Did you ever hear my voice, did you ever see my face?”

“Born to Be Loved,” a slow dirge burnished by Williams’ knotty drawl, wraps up the message she’s making: life is a beautiful but fragile thing. For Williams, cautious optimism has worked wonders.

4 Stars

1 Ping

  1. [...] is What I Mean! Posted on March 1, 2011 by Aunt B. Look. Here is a perfectly good review of Lucinda Williams’ new album. It lets you know what kinds of songs are on it, what they’re about, and whether it’s a [...]
  1. Rick
    March 1, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Wow, a lot of words spring randomly to mind when I hear the name Lucinda Williams (psycho and b*tch for example), but “blessed” sure ain’t one of them. Good grief…

  2. Jeremy Dylan
    March 1, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    Elvis Costello turned into Marc Ribot when I wasn’t looking!

  3. SamB
    March 2, 2011 at 7:08 am

    I listened to this album when NPR had it to stream, and really enjoyed it (though wasn’t listening closely enough to identify any highlight tracks).

    And now this review has reminded me that I forgot to actually order it! Done now!

  4. Donald
    March 6, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Blake- a fine piece of writing.

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