Lucinda Williams – Blessed (Lost Highway)

With Lucinda seemingly content in her private life with husband/manager/producer Tom Overby, there has been speculation that she may have lost her edge. After all, everyone knows you have to be miserable to write great song, right? Well, no.

Williams proves that she still has some scores to settle with the album opener, Buttercup. The snarling guitar underscores her scathing lyrics directed at a former lover…you sucked me dry. But with a title like Blessed, you’ve got to expect some mellower moments, and they are there as well. I Don’t Know How You’re Livin’ is a dreamy slow-burner featuring a twangy guitar and a vocal performance that sounds like it came from the Essence sessions.

Lucinda deals with loss directly on two tracks. Copenhagen addresses the death of her former manager Frank Calleri. It’s atmospheric, haunting, not unlike a well-known Chris Isaak tune. The second, Seeing Black, is Lucinda’s reaction to the suicide of musician Vic Chestnutt. It builds up to a simmering guitar-drenched jam that reminds me of Neil Young and Crazy Horse at their best. Elvis Costello sits in on guitar, but it’s not clear who is playing the solo that lifts this track into the stratosphere.

One musician who makes a profound impression is keyboard player Rami Jaffe (formerly of The Wallflowers). His organ playing adds just the right colour on tracks like Buttercup, Born To Be Loved and the title track. Along with Overby and engineer Eric Liljestrand, the production chores are handled by Don Was. The result is a very live sound with the band becoming as important an ingredient in this record as Lucinda’s voice. Was allows the songs to build up and create their own momentum. Sometimes, as with the title track, if feels like we’re listening to the Allman Brothers Band backing Williams…the musicians sound like they are free to jam and find their own way among the song. Most times, they come up with the goods.

There are a couple of clunkers in the bunch. Sweet Love kinda plods along and Soldier’s Song, an anti-war statement, never quite takes off. But overall, this is a solid batch of tunes. Lucinda’s vocals are as passionate as ever and the raw, live-in-studio production make Blessed one of her best albums in years.

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to Seeing Black from Blessed:

I spoke to Lucinda about the making of Blessed. Click here to listen to that interview.