Lucinda Williams has long gathered commendations for her songwriting, with Time magazine listing her as the best American songwriter in 2002. Probably as a result, Williams and her “alternative country” approach have not gained the popularity of their mainstream cohorts. The same will likely be the case for her new album, “Blessed.”
Not helping sales is Williams’ perpetual funk. Stereotypical country crooners occasionally record tracks about the death of their dog; Williams has apparently dealt with the deaths of many a metaphorical hound. Williams modulates the tone of her unhappiness between sadness and anger, but the key is always minor.
This isn’t all bad; as mentioned before, she’s a great songwriter, and if she’s only comfortable penning depressing tracks, there’s no point forcing her hand. But it can start to drag late into the album.
The first track on the album is a delicious piece of spite, however. “Buttercup” comes from the viewpoint of a lover who’s been on the losing end of a bad relationship for far too long. Williams typically sings with a gently slurred twang, but she virtually spits vitriol during the track’s hook.
Williams almost breaches into optimism during “Born To Be Loved” when she tells the listener they “weren’t born to be forsaken, you were born to be loved.” But then again she reverses her viewpoint on “Ugly Truth,” when she flatly states “From the cradle to the grave, you will always be a slave.” Ouch.
Her most popular single at the moment, “Kiss Like Your Kiss,” is also a track on the “True Blood” soundtrack. It’s equally as depressing as everything else, but Elvis Costello sounds a tad bit more upbeat as a vocalist in his guest spot.
Williams lives up to her normal standards of songwriting on the new album, but the tone can get tiresome. If she’s “Blessed,” she sure doesn’t sound like it.