Lucinda Williams – Blessed/Lost Highway
For Lucinda’s new album Blessed, the production team of Eric Lijestrand and Thomas Overby returns from 2008’s Little Honey album, joined this time by famed producer Don Was. Mr. Was gets Lucinda’s backing band into a loose, rocking groove that recalls Neil Young here, Dylan and the Band there (as well as Southern ensembles from the Allmans to Drive-by Truckers). It’s the kind of casual, swinging feel he’d probably coax out of the Rolling Stones (he’s been at the helm for their last several records) if it weren’t for Mick’s tidier, chart-focused obsessions. This is of course ironic, given how much parts of Blessed sounds like the Stones. Ha.
Lucinda’s hymns to battered resilience and losers (beautiful and otherwise) are here, as always. She branches out, though, on tracks like “Soldier’s Song,” told from the point of view of a soldier in a war zone, and the title cut, which has the repetitive, incantatory groove of a southern Patti Smith. “The Awakening” shares a devotional, yet defiant quality with Smith, as well as having a swampy groove that’s thick enough for an early Dr. John record.
“Seeing Black,” addresses a friend’s suicide. This isn’t new turf for Williams. The title song from Sweet Old World was as gorgeous and elegiac a song as you’ll ever hear on such a grim subject. What’s new is the bruised intensity, even rage (but not judgment), of the questions she poses to the deceased on “Seeing Black,” as the arrangement builds steam and guitarists Val McCallum and Greg Leisz toss off Keith, Robbie and Richard (Thompson) licks at, with and for each other, kicking the song into another gear.
The southern grind of songs like “Buttercup” and especially “Convince Me” reinforce Williams’ Louisiana roots and give Blessed a deep soul dimension. She’s a universal artist, but her idioms are Southern to the core, both in terms of musical roots and language.
Guitar cameos from Elvis Costello are remarkable too, mainly for his not calling attention to himself; I suspect it’s a measure of the esteem he has for Williams’ vision. God knows I’m grateful he doesn’t try to sing with her.
Lucinda Williams has made many good records and a few great ones. It’s early listening, but Blessed sounds like one of the latter.