With West, a disc that may well be Lucinda Williams' most personal work to date, the singer-songwriter channels both her emotion and restive creative energy into a startling set of songs that touch on both darkness and redemption. At turns strikingly spare and compellingly muscular, the album's 13 cuts attest to her willingness to stretch as a musician - and to put herself on the line as a chronicler of life. 'The songs deal with a chapter in my life there's a lot of pain and struggling, but it ends with a look towards the future.' Lucinda Williams.
Though the arrangements stray from Lucinda Williams's motherlode blend of blues, country, and folk, West may well be her best album. It is easily her most musically adventurous, and often her most lyrically inspired. Williams's singing has never sounded better, from the aching tenderness of "Where Is My Love?" to the ravaged catharsis of "Unsuffer Me." New York producer Hal Willner, who has worked with artists such as Marianne Faithful and Lou Reed, enlists the support of eclectic progressives like guitarist Bill Frisell, keyboardist Bob Burger, and violinist Jenny Scheinman, along with harmonies from the Jayhawks' Gary Louris, to weave a subtly rich sonic tapestry. Much of the material was inspired by the death of Williams's beloved mother ("Mama You Sweet," "Fancy Funeral") and the bitter breakup of a relationship (the jagged-edged emasculation of "Come On," the repetitive incantation of "Wrap My Head Around That"), though "Are You Alright?," "Learning How to Live," and "Everything Has Changed" could reflect the aftermath of both. Other highlights include "Rescue," with a languid subtlety and ambient pulse reminiscent of Beth Orton, and the dreamy, wistful title track. Where Williams's music has long cut close to the bone, the best of West
slices right through it. --Don McLeese