West

LUCINDA WILLIAMS ’s music is evocative in a way others can’t touch. It’s not only the fragility and ache in her voice but also her economy of language, with its declarative simplicity that cuts to the heart. A perfect album is a rarity, yet Williams has made two, her 1988 self-titled breakthrough and 1998’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road . Wheels’ five years of sessions were torturous for this onetime Austinite, as was a 2000 New Yorker profile that portrayed her as a perfectionist frozen by her insecurities; though Williams now moves with greater speed and newfound confidence, the clichéd Nashville cats who have backed her of late seem clueless to her sensibilities. With WEST (Lost Highway), producer Hal Willner and musicians like Bill Frisell and Gary Louris right the wrong, and Williams—alternately longing, wistful, funny, and pissed off—turns in what is easily her most powerful work in years. With the mournful questions (“Are You Alright?” “Where Is My Love?”), the plaintive narrative of “Fancy Funeral,” the quiet despair of “Everything Has Changed,” and the come-on of “Unsuffer Me,” it’s more than easy to get lost in these masterful songs.

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