What does it sound like?:
On her twelfth studio album Lucinda Williams sounds more world weary than ever. That familiar cracked voice is slurred and sorrowful. Her big subject has always been loss – loss of love, loss of passion, loss and memory of childhood, and the incomprehensible loss of loved ones.. They’re all here, but given that both Williams’ and husband and producer Tom Overy’s fathers died recently, it’s hardly surprising that it’s this loss that runs right through the record. The record opens with ‘Dust’ which sets the tone with the first lines – ‘There’a a sadness so deep/The sun seems black’. It’s one of two songs dealing with her father’s Alzheimers – ‘Even your thoughts are dust’. There are songs here in which ‘Death came and gave you his kiss’; in which she begs for the doors of Heaven to open, in which she rails against the disease that afflicted her father – ‘destroyer of brilliance, destroyer of hope/Invader of skin, invader of bone’; in which she asks someone dying to ‘let me know if there’s a heaven out there’.
You get the picture. But it’s not as bleak a listen as that makes it sound. There are some great songs, whose melody and sound isn’t immediate but gets under your skin the more you listen. Two great Deep South childhood songs, the title track, and ‘Louisiana Story’. A couple of songs you can imagine being covered by any number of country singers, the almost rockabilly ‘Bitter Memory’ and the tender ‘There’s a Place in My Heart’. And it doesn’t take a huge leap to imagine ‘Can’t Close the Door on Love’ as a big torch ballad reinterpreted by Adele.
The arrangements are simple – two guitars, drums and bass. And what guitars. Greg Leisz and the incomparable Bill Frisell create subtle intricate lines above the solid rhythm section, interplaying with and complementing Williams’ voice perfectly. It’s not flashy, it takes some listening, but their work absolutely makes this album.
What does it all *mean*?
It means our days are numbered and that’s a bastard. But for all that it’s uplifting and life affirming in its very existence, and in an artist turning that pain into a beautiful record. And the final extended play out track offers some sense of coming through, as Lucinda repeats ‘Faith and grace, that’s all I need’ over a lazy spacious rhythm, and those impeccable spare guitar licks.
Goes well with…
A Bible in one hand and a whisky in the other.
Might suit people who like…
Time out of Mind, Emmylou Harris’s ‘Wrecking Ball’, The Ghost of Tom Joad – those records where our great singers and songwriters find their darker side.