Saturday, May 11, 2013

West - Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams
Lost Highway  B0015615-01

On the spur of the moment I went to a Lucinda Williams show on Thanksgiving Eve two years ago at the El Rey.  I was impressed by her exuberance and vitality in concert those aren't qualities I tend to associate with her recorded music which seems deeply personal and emotional, full of vulnerability and sadness.  That is certainly the case with "West" her 8th studio album.  "Are You Alright?" opens the album.  It sounds like it is directed at a lost lover or friend.  She delivers the song with the laconic moan of a vocal that is her trademark.  "Mama You Sweet" seems to be about her grief over the death of her mother - the album is dedicated to the memory of her mother and aunt.  Considering the misery in the lyrics - she practically makes grief sound like childbirth - the music is surprisingly mellow and pleasant, only the achy quality of Williams' vocal reflects the tone of the lyrics.  "Learning How To Live" sounds upbeat musically but it is also about loss, in this case the loss of a lover and trying to recover from heartbreak.  She concludes this cheerful side of music with "Fancy Funeral" which is a slow song that says it is better to save your money for practical everyday needs than to spend it on an expensive funeral that is not going to bring your lost one back.  Side two opens with "Unsuffer Me" which is one of my favorite tracks.  It has howling guitars and a slow heavy rock beat reminiscent of Neil Young as Williams sings of her desire for a lover to liberate her from her state of unhappiness which she equates with physical bondage.  She has always been good with evocative metaphors and descriptions.  I find her raw vocal very powerful.  "Everything Has Changed" in contrast is a gentle folky song that describes how her perception of the world has changed now that she has lost her love, joy and faith.  It is a pretty depressing song.  The side concludes with another of my favorites, "Come On."  This rocked up attack on a former lover who couldn't give her an orgasm is full of energy and anger, a welcome change from the melancholy tone of most of the album.  Side three begins with "Where Is My Love."  The song features some plaintive string lines but it is basically a sweet song in which she speculates about what her lover is doing.  Williams' raspy vocal has a lot of warmth.  The moody folk-rocker, "Rescue" starts out describing all the things a lover can't do for you, but concludes by hopefully acknowledging what a lover can do for you with the charming line that he "can tie some ribbons in your hair and show you that he'll always care."  I really like this song, it reminds me a bit of Sandy Denny's group, Fotheringay.  "What If" lists a lengthy series of unlikely events leading up to the last unlikely event, the payoff line "and we'd love one another in equal amounts."  Ouch.  It is a slow majestic country tune that benefits from a pretty string arrangement and Williams' wistful vocal.  Side four starts with the nine minute long "Wrap My Head Around That," an epic rant in which Williams vents her spleen at an ex-lover.  It is a remarkable song with a slinky hypnotic groove over which Williams sings and chants her vindictive lyrics.  It's a bit repetitious but it is so dramatic and compelling that I don't get bored, plus the band behind her really cooks.  "Words" also seems to be directed at an obnoxious ex-lover but it is mostly about the solace and joy she gets from writing songs.  In keeping with the positive feeling of the song, the folk-rock tune is upbeat and propulsive.  The album finishes with the lovely "West" which is a hopeful love song.  "West" is such a personal and honest album, it is almost uncomfortable to listen to, like overhearing two lovers quarreling next door.  It is made tolerable, even enjoyable by the music.  Williams may not be the most technically proficient singer around, but she sings with so much feeling and sincerity that I find her voice enormously appealing.  The band behind her is terrific and the album is intelligently produced by Hal Willner who I consider one of the best producers around.  This album is part of the series of albums Lost Highway re-issued to commemorate their 10th anniversary.  I have several of those albums and find them uniformly excellent.  It is pressed on clear vinyl in a handsome album package.  If you are a Lucinda Williams fan it is well worth seeking out, the woman's voice was made for warmth and vibrancy of vinyl, the next best thing to hearing her live.  I have to admit that when the sun is shining and everything is hunky dory, this is not the album I reach for.  However if it is late at night or I'm feeling blue, this album sounds great.  It is like commiserating with an old friend.  Recommended for fans of Tori Amos who wish she was a cowgirl.

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