Music

Lucinda Williams: Blessed

Blessed, like all of Williams’ best efforts, finds the blessings within the blues.


Lucinda Williams

Blessed

Label: Lost Highway
US Release Date: 2011-03-01
UK Release Date: 2011-02-28
Amazon
iTunes

Singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams’ discography spans ten studio albums over three decades and several musical styles. As Chris Klimek wrote a few years ago in a Washington Post concert review, “she’s a little Hank Williams, a little John Coltrane, a little Chet Baker and a little Loretta Lynn.” Those comparisons are on point, but she is also much more than the sum of her influences. She more or less spelled out what she does best in the title of her first album of original songs, 1980’s Happy Woman Blues. Her momentum as an artist is fueled by emotional peaks and valleys, and the little moments and long years across which they unfold. Often, the ideal way to receive her work is as a document of where life has taken her in the years since we last heard from her.

Although her two most recent studio releases, West (2007) and Little Honey (2008), seemed a little less lived-in, somehow less inspired than her work of the 1990s and early part of the last decade, she returns to fine form on Blessed. Produced by Don Was, Blessed is a many-textured album. Goodbye lover-number “Buttercup” begins the album in a disarmingly familiar fashion, its electric guitars and commanding vocal delivery direct descendants of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998). Yet we’ve very little time to settle into her confident assertions, because “Don’t Know How You’re Living” outlines the sacrifices she’s made on behalf of the song’s unnamed “you”. She is vulnerable and hurt, but pledges to continue her support. In the space of two consecutive songs, Williams, Was, and the band chart out the range of a happy woman’s blues.

One key to Williams’ approach that unites the polarity of upbeat and downbeat numbers is her use of lyrical repetition. Fundamental to the blues style, the repetition of lines across bars is sometimes merely mechanical, but Williams’ mantras expand in meaning as her songs develop. The phrases “You weren’t born to…” and “You were born to…” create the lyrical structure for “To Be Loved”, finding a purpose for life somewhere in between the expressions of pain and pleasure that finish each sentence. In this song, all roads lead to love. In “Kiss Like Your Kiss", the word “never” comes up again and again, describing the ephemeral nature of certain pleasures, especially the colors and sensations of seasons. All of these culminate with “there’ll never be a kiss like your kiss”. Here “never” takes on a positive value -- an appreciation of present blessings, as they are not guaranteed to last.

“Seeing Black” is another song that hopes to appreciate and preserve life, but the results are less optimistic. Written to Vic Chesnutt, who committed suicide on Christmas Day 2009 (and who once wrote a song called “Lucinda Williams”), “Seeing Black” is faster in pace and more electric in execution than most other songs on Blessed. The song uses a color spectrum (seeing black, red, white) to take the listener on a trip through Chesnutt’s final thoughts and feelings. Accompanying this synesthesia is a wild guitar solo by Elvis Costello. This is not the kind of tribute one might expect, but its energy expresses the anger and disappointment of the living, left behind by the departed.

The two songs that most define the album are “Soldier’s Song” and the title track, which rest side by side in the middle of the sequence. Set to a deceptively peaceful-sounding acoustic guitar, “Soldier’s Song” tells the story of a soldier at war and of his family back home. He questions why he’s in “this God-forsaken place” where he doesn’t “know [my] enemy’s name” while his beloved family goes through the motions far away. Like PJ Harvey’s war-focused Let England Shake, “Soldier’s Song” is specific and poignant but not overly polemical. Then there is “Blessed”, the title track and conceptual springboard for the album. Although much of Williams’ writing (such as “Kiss Like Your Kiss”) draws the listener’s attention to good things large and small, “Blessed” focuses on the people behind blessings. Represented in her litany of people who’ve blessed her/us are the “the neglected child who knew how to forgive", “the battered woman who didn’t seek revenge", “the blind man who could see for miles and miles", and “the soldier who gave up his life".

On her website, Williams is offering a series of videos, “individual testimonials of what it means to be ‘BLESSED’". These short, interview-based documentaries with Los Angeles residents are a wonderful companion to the lyrics and album artwork, all of which encourage discovering blessings in unlikely and overlooked sources. Blessed, like Williams’ best efforts, finds the blessings within the blues.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image