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Lucinda Williams - Essence 2001 torrent
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After toiling in relative obscurity and then in the partial shade of cultish appreciation, singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams bowled over most of the known rock universe with 1998's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Her unique strengths - elliptical but evocative song-stories, distanced vocals and naked emotions, and a not-quite-country lilt and twang - had been manifest since she began making records in the late Seventies, but Car Wheels found Williams at her ripest, with her hair all mussed and not a note or observation out of place.
No doubt all eyes are on Williams for this follow-up recording, since it is competing with an artistic apotheosis of sorts - the kind that an artist like the hard-working Williams is expected to be grateful for. Fortunately, she's also a little pretentious and thus unlikely to be poleaxed by a high level of acclaim. In fact, Essence finds Williams returning to the willful intimacy of her earliest records. Laid-back, rock-ish and small in scale, Essence never achieves grandeur but won't particularly alienate the fan for whom her wonders small and large are equally magical. There is a certain plangent cruelty in the breakup song "Are You Down?" - it fully expresses a stoic dumping within a lyrical wisp, and the arrangement has a weird island flavor that detaches the track's message from the emotions it excites. "I Envy the Wind" is a lightly glossed blues that would have been dramatically torch-ified by a lesser singer, but it's just right as is - a mansion built of toothpicks, the sparkling arrangement and Williams' front-and-center vocals achieving a sorrowful resonance on a par with her beautiful Crescent City. Williams can make something elegantly spare out of a simple housedress of a song, as on the walkin'-the-road country of "Reason to Cry," which conjures up George Jones at his least theatrical.
But size does matter on slightly drippy slow songs like "Blue," which sounds like it's moving slower than the singer wants, or on the repetitive kickoff number, "Lonely Girls." Williams' voice can't always sustain its yearning tone during long stretches; she has stamina but not resilience, and it throws a harsh light on the iffy scanning in her songwriting that is one of its chief charms and flaws. You don't really believe that she wants to "Get Right With God," a process she describes in lurid Southern terms that need Gillian Welch's amiability to pull off. Nor does Essence ring any erotic alarm bells, unlike the wide-eyed, transported Williams on Car Wheels' "Right in Time." Essence is spotty and sweet, winningly imperfect and often striking. But Williams doesn't secure any kind of emotional or narrative center for the album, and that's a sizable omission coming from as earthy a visionary as country music can claim. (RS 869 - May 24, 2001)
3.5 Stars - Rollingstone
When Rolling Stone interviewer David Fricke recently asked Lucinda Williams when she knows "it's right," she replied "I cry."
That sentiment alludes to the bare-emotion momentum of Williams' new, heart-wrenching album, Essence. With its basic tracks recorded in just one week — a record for the perfectionist who took five years to make her 1998 Grammy-Award-winning Car Wheels on a Gravel Road — the album finds its way back to the artist's more intimate roots.
Since Rablin' on My Mind, her 1979 debut on Folkways, Williams has changed record labels repeatedly as she struggles for creative control over her small gold mine of music. With Essence, put out by Lost Highway Records, she again tries something new. And again, her soul-revealing creative vision snubs any pop-hungry producer.
"Lonely Girls," which opens the album, delicately uses carefully chosen phrases to convey the image of the ever-present girls of the title. Well-supported by its singer's own acoustic guitar, the song's lyrics, although sparse, are a testament to her master lyricist skills. Simple observations like "heavy blankets" and "pretty hairdos" slowly reveal the life of a lonely girl.
In the title track, a throaty, more powerful Williams emerges. Jim Keltner's percussion and Williams' guitar drive through the chorus, causing the album to reach one of its only moments of rounded, full, instrumental strength. This strength gives the somewhat sexy love song a sound that can be played in the car, with the top down and the wind in your hair. Unlike most of the album's other songs, which tend toward "to be played alone in your room."
"Get Right With God" is the album's other up-beat moment. It sports Williams in her Southern glory, playing off a gospel music template and commenting on the religious traditions of the South. A quick tour of dancing with snakes and sleeping on a bed of nails finishes with the punch, "If I give up one of my lambs will you take me as one of your daughters."
The album closes with "Broken Butterflies," rumored to be recorded in one take, no rehearsal. The hushed, dirge-like song closes the album as it opens, with beautifully reflected sorrow.
Essence finds Williams less twangy, but singing in the same raw tone. Her voice at times becomes strained and limp, as in "Blue." But this happens only in songs that feature a depressed mood, and the limpness arguably supports that mood. The album does not present a unified work, which causes songs like "Get Right With God" to feel stuck in amongst the others.
Yet, the album demands the same praise as Williams' last three recordings: lyrics that make the poets jealous, coupled with music from a perfectionist with a unique personality. And many will agree that they knew the songs were right when they cried.
- Flak Magazine
Artist: Lucinda Williams
Date Of Release: 2001
Genre: Alt-Country, Americana
Bitrate: VBR --alt-preset extreme