“I’m 57 but I could be seven years old / ’Cause I will never be able to / Comprehend the expansiveness of what I’ve just learned,” sings Lucinda Williams on her newest album, “Blessed.” Given the strength of “Blessed” and her decades of critical acclaim, it is impressive that Williams is able to sustain this sort of humility. Williams’s newest album is a testament to the power and diversity of her style. Simple in most regards, the album is a collection of 12 emotionally-charged tracks that swing from slow jazz ballads to upbeat country rock tunes. What she lacks in complexity, Williams easily makes up for in quality, and both the lyrics and delivery of her songs are extraordinary. While on a song-to-song basis “Blessed” lacks thematic cohesion, it ultimately emerges as a touching compilation of incredibly powerful pieces.
When taken as such a collection, “Blessed” astounds. The final track, “Kiss Like Your Kiss,” is introduced by pulsing instruments and an arpeggiated guitar line. Williams layers a soft voice and beautiful imagery on top of the gentle instrumentals: “There’ll never be a spring so perfect again / We’ll never see a yellow so rich / The grass will never be quite as green / And there’ll never be a kiss like your kiss.” Her voice often wavers or barely hits a note, but these imperfections suit the song perfectly, as do her understated lyrics. The song flows like a gentle waltz—a simple, delicate account of the beauty of being in love.
On album-opener “Buttercup” and “Seeing Black,” Williams shows her tougher side. Backed by distorted guitars and a solid drum beat, she sings about disillusionment—with love on “Buttercup,” and with life on “Seeing Black.” “When did you start seeing black? / Was it too much good you felt you lacked? / Was it too much weight riding on your back?” she sings on the latter. In both songs, Williams is joined in the chorus by well-executed harmonies, which add force to the already muscular songs. The overall result is a confident indifference. This feeling stands in powerful contrast to her slower tracks, in which she lays her emotions bare.
The strongest song on “Blessed” is in many ways the most out of place. While the album lacks strong thematic or tonal consistency, “Soldier’s Song” is an even sharper departure from the other tracks. The song tells the story of a soldier at war and his love interest, with Williams narrating in the first person as a soldier on a battlefield. The song’s lyrics alternate between describing the soldier’s life and his love’s radically different domestic life—a juxtaposition that highlights the absurd, inhumane nature of war: “I met my enemy today / Baby takes the little one out to play / Enemy shot two of my buddies down / Baby rides the little one on the merry-go-round.” Williams also leaves out names, referring only to “baby,” “buddies,” and “enemy,” making the song a general anthem of all soldiers, not just a specific one. “Soldier’s Song” is so emotionally effective that it is difficult to listen to, but only because its message is so touchingly conveyed.
Aside from its lyrics, the most impressive feature of “Blessed” is the degree to which Williams uses her voice as a flexible emotional—if imperfect—tool. In “Buttercup,” she sings almost lackadaisically, her raspy voice literally slurring through the words. On “Soldier’s Song,” she sounds weary and meek, her voice wavering, suggesting the pain of the soldier. Her voice is clear and light on “Blessed,” and the song is one of the happier tracks on the album as a result.
On “Copenhagen,” Williams alters the tone of her voice yet again, singing in a gentle yet raw voice lyrics that perfectly describe the album: “Walking through unfamiliar streets and / Shaking unfamiliar hands and / Hearing unfamiliar laughs / And lovely language I don’t understand.” While it may seem trite, this is exactly what “Blessed” is—a walk through the unfamiliar streets of Williams’s disparate experiences while hearing the language of her emotions—emotions conveyed so directly and poetically as to be both heartrending and heartwarming.
—Staff Writer Keerthi Reddy can be reached at email@example.com.
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