It may only be March but I have to say that this is going to be one of my records of the year.
Lucinda Williams has always been a peerless songwriter.She writes about lust, love, and losslike nobody else, and on this album, co-produced with Hal Wilner, she takes on such subjects as her mother's death, the state of the world, and yet another tumultuous relationship which ended badly. It's her usual tough stuff, but this time, Lucinda sneaks in a note of hope and even redemption in the very bluesy mix.
The album's 13 songs together form a largely down-tempo disc, but "West" doesn't only find Williams in a somber mood.
"Mama You Sweet" is upbeat and "Come On" is a nasty, almost raunchy kiss-off, musically akin to "Atonement" from her last album, 2003's "World Without Tears".
She injects doses of hope and light in tracks like "What If", in which she imagines a world where the president wears pink and a prostitute is a queen.
There are uncomfortable truths here, carried on easy-going melodies. "Fancy Funeral" is a wry look at death's priorities that flows as easily as drink.
Williams lost her mother and an errant lover as these songs were being written. These two truncated relationships fill "West" with exquisitely turned suffering; Williams and band provides the expert musical succour. Hal Wilner is the producer who organised this record's quietly unconventional sounds as Williams wanted them.
Equally raw and sensual is the unravelling blues of "Unsuffer Me", where Williams's ravaged voice begs: "Undo my logic/ Undo my fear" with an intensity that verges on the erotic.
Subtle and heroically blunt by turns, "West" is a meditation on abandonment and recovery, abandon and regret that deserves to be hauled out of the Americana ghetto and celebrated everywhere wounded hearts beat.
This collection sees her at her best with emotion, raw power and intoxicating, intense tunes which should appeal to much more than country and folk fans.
Four years on from "World Without Tear"s comes this studio album from Lucinda Williams, her eighth in a 37-year career - she doesn't rush.
OK, the predominant theme is pain, and no one does pain as eloquently as Lucinda - or as multifariously.
Yet "West" is all musical mood swings: from stoic, heartbreak country to fierce revenge rock, retro pop to folk, poetry to rap, mellow California to dark LA rock.
What makes Lucinda Williams such an important country artist, besides the excellent songwriting and that sultry, scarred southern voice, is her skill at stretching the genre's boundaries while mining its essence.
Which, often as not, is pain.