21 February 2007

Lucinda Williams / West / Lost Highway [2007]

3.5 Stars

Choice Cuts: "West", "Are You Alright?", "Fancy Funeral"

In the vein of Patty Griffin or Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams crafts an acceptable addition to her impressive catalog, but fails to master the greatness with which she flirts. Williams' raspy but ever-graceful voice leads West with hauntingly beautiful melody and roots-rock standards of reverb and twanging guitar.

Weathered but poignant, "Fancy Funeral" has the biting wit of a seasoned veteran, but despair remains as Williams asserts the uselessness of an elaborate funeral in a stark musing on death. "No amount of riches will bring back what you've lost so just satisfy your wishes," Williams sings.

Williams' song-writing is modest and practical, never feigning immortality or melodrama. The understated despair and compassion of "West" shuffles with hints of hopefulness through optimistic lyrics, urging a lover "If you don't come out West and see, you'll never know at all."

A knack for thematic and musical simplicity is both a gift and curse on West; Williams paints with broad strokes as crass sexual attacks ("Come On") or empty fantasy ("What If") remain lyrically vague with similarly safe instrumentation. Discernible in its aim, the album often achieves the relatable simplicity Williams is revered for. However, West fails in pushing boundaries or challenging listeners, a redeeming quality even in Williams' minor works like the painfully raw Essence. It's only begrudgingly that the music community will accept an undemanding effort from a songwriter of Williams' caliber, but the fact remains, West has its share of gems and though underwhelming in relative terms, Williams outshines most.

-Joseph Coscarelli

Link to WSN

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