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Lucinda Williams

Essence – 2001 (Lost Highway)

Reviewed by Michael Berick

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CDs by Lucinda Williams

"I just wanna go back to blue," Lucinda Williams sings with raspy longing, and blue is the reigning mood here. From the opening cut "Lonely Girl" through tunes like "I Envy The Wind" and "Reason To Cry," the music aches with heartbreak and loneliness. Even when Williams turns her attentions away from romantic woes, her songs still deal with lost, yearning souls. The vivid imagery ("I would sleep on a bed of nails/'till my back was torn and bleeding") in "Get Right With God" works just as well revealing a person's desire to get religion into their life as it does being a desperate plea to get a lover back.

Williams, who shared production chores with Charlie Sexton and Bo Ramsey, basically went with spare, bluesy arrangements, stripping the songs' emotions down to their "essence." The disc's most rocked-up number is its masterful title track, an urgent tune centering on one of Williams' signature topics - romantic obsession. While the songs on her 1999 breakout disc "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road" played like short stories, the writing here feels more like journal entries. Instead of taking listeners on a trip through the south ("Car Wheels'" songs traveled to Greenville, West Memphis, Lake Charles), Williams here stays at home, barely leaving the bedroom. But her musical journeys of the heart are always well worth taking and this deeply felt, deeply affecting album makes another case for Williams being one of America's top singer/songwriters.