There’s a music industry blogger (Bob Lefsetz) I have a lot of respect for—not to say that I don’t disagree with him on occassion, but he makes great points, opens my eyes to the current state of the music biz and his noteworthy audience often replies back with insightful comments. Somewhere along the way Bob mentioned singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams and just the way he spoke of her made me want to buy a record and experience her for myself. I started with her most recent effort, Blessed.
I bought the Blessed LP while visiting Asheville, NC at a great little music shop called Harvest Records. They were kind enough to mail my purchase back to CT for me, sparing me the risk of subjecting the record (and one other I had bought) to the recklessness of the TSA and constrained overhead storage provided by Delta.
Blessed is a 2-LP set on white vinyl that also comes with two CD’s—one featuring the identical tracks (matching the LP’s) and the other containing demos of the songs Lucinda recorded at her kitchen table— great stuff through and through. Nice way to package your songs.
Blessed features 12-songs in all and to sum it up, this is an amazingly powerful record. Lucinda strikes me as having reached a place free from all inhibitions—she is truly performing her compositions with each and every muscle in her face, throat and diaphragm. Blessed is a modern day Exile on Main Street in its rawness and honest production values. There is a darkness to the compositions married to a rare delicacy that separates the best singer/songwriters from the masses. Elvis Costello plays guitar on three tracks and his instincts match the feel of the songs but his performances are unremarkable.
Blessed is a perfect counter to all advocates of single-track digital downloads—this is a collection of songs best digested in succession as the artist intended. Not that the songs don’t stand mightily on individual merits, however I was literally exhausted from the journey after having been trampled by the 12 tracks in proper order. There is an authenticity to Lucinda and her compositions that is woefully hard to come by—and genuinely moving. Sweet Love is a short, poignant love song. Soldier’s Song is just brutal. The title track (Blessed) should be the default curriculum for the School of Two-Chord Songwriting. The final song (“Kiss Like Your Kiss”) appeared on the True Blood: Music from the HBO Original Series – Volume 2 and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. The production of Kiss Like Your Kiss (like most of the songs here) leaves plenty of space for the allure of Lucinda’s unique voice—ornamented with vibes and tasty bass and guitar work.
One gaffe—my LP’s have a distinct flaw. There is distortion in the midrange, particularly noticeable in the voice but also in other places. I carefully checked my system as a result and once satisfied that all was in order there, I played the same tracks on the CD version which did not exhibit the same characteristics. I cannot say whether this issue exists with all copies of the LP—but with my copy it was certainly present. My intuition and the opinions of some experts I consulted would lead one to surmise that the vinyl pressing is flawed, but I cannot ascertain that with certainty.
Lucinda Williams Blessed on Lost Highway Records is brilliant. The mixes are bold (fearless, even) and the instrumentation sounds real, it sounds overtly human, imperfect, and wonderful. My least favorite track is Seeing Black, just because it is raucous and interrupts the intimacy of the other songs—yet it is also brilliant for just that reason. This record is unpredictable, painful, and beautiful—it is a work of art and should be digested as such.