13 February 2007

NMT: 13 FEB 07 Lucinda Williams --- West

NMT: 13 FEB 07 The Fabulous Place Holders --- Post Pending

That's not the name of a new band (but if a band does decide to adopt that name, I want a 'thanks' in the credits), just me trying to acknowledge that New Music Tuesday will happen this week, just slightly late.

UPDATE: 19 FEB 07, 10:45am

Here's the real music post (I preserved the title and text from the original place holder post above), as you can see by the changed title, the artist delivering a new release this week is Lucinda Williams. She's been around awhile, but I was never a fan of hers personally. I was aware of her as a presence on that alt-country alt-folk alt-blues style scene, but nothing I heard of hers ever grabbed me.

But her latest album, West, grabs me, and it grabs me hard.

Her voice is sung through a throat that sounds worn, well lived in, and roughly used. Her attitude goes beyond world-weary and enters the darker edges of Leonard Cohen territory.

The musicianship and production on this album are top shelf, and suit the stories she tells, perfectly.

This is a great melding of voice, song style, singing style, lyrics, and music. Anyone of those elements could have detracted from the whole, but in this case, each contributes to the whole in a synergistic manner.

Good, good stuff, this.

On to the tracks.

1) Are You Alright?
This is as sweet little song. It's countrified, a bit lazy, slightly hazy, and her voice on this song sets the tone for all that follows. It's a tired voice, worn, worried, and more than a bit sad. She won't win any contests for vocal clarity and prettiness, but songs like this would be lessened by a 'pretty' voice (see Norah Jones latest album for that).

2) Mama You Sweet
The missing verb makes this song hum. Mama You are Sweet would have been less interesting, honest. Well written, well crafted, well performed. Lyrically dense, maybe just a bit obtuse, but delivered with humor and conviction. It's a playful performance on all accounts (but this song isn't a joke)

3) Learning How to Live
Possibly the most straight forward "country" song in this album. This song could be picked up and prettified by some sweet young thing and get radio play. But years from now, when the sweet young thing's version is thought of as the 'real' version, some folks will hear this version and realize how this song had been meant to be sung.

4) Fancy Funeral
All about setting priorities. A fairly traditionally composed and arranged country/blues lament with some pretty guitar work holding it all together. Nice stuff.

5) Unsuffer Me
This is more in the contemporary artsy blues category than country. Her vocals are more intentionally 'individual' on this song. Plus it has strings, can't not have strings in a song like this. Reminds me of mid career Concrete Blonde, and that's not a bad thing.

6) Everything Has Changed
This is a a solidly folky tune. Heartbreakingly simple, straightforward and affecting. No gimmicks offered, and no gimmicks needed. Just a simple musical backdrop, a 'lived-in' vocal performance, and meaningful lyrics. Ask for more at your peril.

7) Come On
After a very straight forward folksy tune, she brings a bit of double-entendre silliness. It doesn't not work, though. It's an OK song, if a bit gimmicky. It's one of those, 'screw you ex-lover, you were a jerk, and you weren't even very good in bed' songs, that are a staple for women in rock/blues/rap/country/pop/opera/tango/soul music (almost every genre produces these songs, except kiddie music, and I'd be seriously worried about the 'children's music' artist who put one of these songs on their album). But any song with the line, "The effort wasn't even concerted" has to be respected, if not loved.

8) Where Is My Love
If you were wondering whether or not to get this album, this is probably the track you should listen to. Either her vocal performance here will put you off completely, or intrigue you. To say that she has her own vocal style would be putting it mildly. I love it on this song, but I could understand being off put by it at the same time. It's a straight forward bluesy song that goes where you'd expect a song so entitled to go. But just cause it's expected, doesn't mean it's boringly predictable. It's a torch song, essentially, and it's lovely (in my opinion).

9) Rescue
An interesting song, with sleepily delivered vocals and a quietly insistent musical presence. The lyrics might be a bit ridiculous, or they might be really profound, I haven't decided yet. You can't get to profound without going through ridiculous, though (same with sublime, the suburb known as sublime is completely surrounded by the metropolis known as silly)

10) What If
Another more or less countrified offering. This song is solidly within the metropolis of Silly, but it makes enough forays into sublime, that it works because of the silliness, not in spite of its inherent lyrical silliness. It's inspired silliness, and a nice song (yet darker than I make it sound).

11) Wrap My Head Around That
If you are one of those "I only buy songs a la carte" type folks, then this would be the song to buy. First, it's loooooong, you'll get more bang for your $1.49 at iTunes (or whatever the going rate is, I don't have an iPod, or iTunes on my computer presently). Secondly, it's a brilliant song with so many layers as to defy description (but I'll make an attempt). Rhythmically this song is pretty interesting, there's a nice unexpected syncopation going on. On top of that, there's some 'white girl' rapping going on in the vocal delivery (in that early 80s, singing-talking sort of way, which is really from the same source as rap, the talking blues, but because rap is such a dominate idiom it's hard not to hear it as a 'rap' even though it isn't). The lyrics keep on going, and are solid and fascinating, her delivery of these worlds are perfect, and the bass line just keeps driving this whole thing forward as it takes all these twists and turns. On top of it all, they have some fun with the production of the sounds and vocals and go away from the more 'organic' sound of the rest of the album and go in for a full on 'producers having fun with all those shiny knobs' sort of epic. This is a dense, rich and fun experience, superficially simple, but with a lot of depth under the surface.

12) Words
The album closes with a more straight forward folky song. Its pretty, slight, but gets the job done. Strong song lyrically, it's a fine song.

13) West
As befitting a song called, "West" it's a lazy, western style ballad. Where this excels is in her delivery, the lyrics, and the unhurried simplicity of the music. Doesn't try to be more than it is, and that makes it all the more effective. Solid way to close, a fantastic album. Buy it already, you dolts.

Probably the best album I've heard this year, this will be sticking with me awhile, which is part of why I delayed reviewing it. This album requires some digestion before attempting to spit up an impression of it. This album doesn't lend itself to a snap judgement or quick description. She's a fascinating artist, doing what she does in a way that sounds assured, knowing, and confident.

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