Lucinda Williams’ voice is a rugged, well-worn, vulnerable thing, transparent to the point of revealing a depth of emotion that evades many singers. Likewise, her songs aren’t conventionally pretty but they capture the essence of living, both the lovely and scarring moments that gradually build into a life. At 58 years old, with more than thirty years of work behind her, Williams has the gravitas to handle the title many have bestowed upon her – “rock’s poet laureate.”
Blessed is an apt title for her latest release as it finds Williams at a grateful place in her life. In 2009 she married her manager Tom Overby and married life seems to be agreeing with the road warrior. But the experience of personal contentment also appears to have opened a channel to a deep pool of empathy that spills out into the record. Williams goes beyond her own life, examining the effects of poverty, abuse, and war as it impacts our national identity. “Born To Be Loved” could be the statement song for the album. Softly brushed percussion, subtle organ, and restrained guitar work underpin Lucinda’s plaintive vocals as she points out the dignity that all people deserve. “Soldier’s Song” is a devastatingly sad song about war, juxtaposing the painful reality of the battle with the beauty of daily routines back home. Once again, the key to the track is William’s vocals which have never been as beautifully highlighted as on this album. Producer Don Was made it clear that the emphasis for this record would be Lucinda’s vocals. Although not an obvious choice as producer, Was proves to be a great inspiration for the singer, coaxing out delicate shadings in her vocals while also cheering on the rough exteriors on other tracks.
Lucinda Williams has never been shy about topics dealing with mortality and offers two of her best on Blessed. “Copenhagen” expresses her shock at the death of her manager Frank Callari, whom she describes as “a beautiful mess.” “Seeing Black” is a powerful song for Vic Chesnutt, the late singer/songwriter who committed suicide in 2009. Mixing both anger and compassion, Williams contemplates his mindset at the point of death. It is compassion that defines both these songs.
Williams has made a career of writing scalding love-gone-wrong ballads. “Buttercup” offers that side of Lucinda but balancing out the heavier material are several of the her most unabashed love songs. “Kiss Like Your Kiss” and “Sweet Love,” inspired by her husband, flow with hope and gratitude. The title track combines the two themes of this album, her new found love and contentment with her compassion for others still fighting the good fight. Long known for her attention to detail and slow writing process, Williams is in a prolific period, claiming the songs just poured out of her. In a recent interview she revealed that she could not be in a relationship that would cause her to stop writing. We are all blessed that she’s found a man who inspires her to see the beauty in the simple things in the world and who gives her the space to express it.