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ALBUM REVIEWS

To love and lose in 'West'

February 10, 2007|Richard Cromelin

Lucinda Williams

"West" (Lost Highway)

* * 1/2

Lucinda Williams has become one of pop music's preeminent singer-songwriters by going eye-to-eye with the most difficult emotions, expressing them in music that mirrors their every nuance with unflinching candor and a poet's flair for language.

So is it fair to complain too much if she brings those qualities to a single emotion rather than a range of feelings? Maybe not, but with its limited focus, "West" (in stores Tuesday) is a narrow and unbalanced work.

In her first album since 2003's "World Without Tears," the Los Angeles-based Southerner is feeling the big hurt -- and boy, is she feeling it. The pain of love is hardly a new subject for Williams, but it's never pinned her to the ground the way it does here.

"All of a sudden you went away" are the first words she sings, sounding as if her mouth is clenched against voicing the sentence. She does reveal some different shadings within her litany of loss. "I can't find my joy anywhere," she laments at one point but also finds some footing, "learning how to live without you in my life."

But the most vivid moments are her lacerating put-downs of her ex. "Dude, I'm so over you," she spits out in "Come On," whose chorus employs a strategically placed comma to give it a teasing double meaning. The centerpiece is "Wrap My Head Around That," a cathartic, nine-minute, semi-spoken kiss-off that raises scorn to high art.

That's the one time on "West" that the music is significantly animated and agitated. For most of the album, it remains resolutely deliberate and restrained, without her usual soaring and rocking release.

Williams co-produced the album with Hal Willner (Marianne Faithfull, Lou Reed), and while the result isn't as radical as Emmylou Harris' teaming with Daniel Lanois on "Wrecking Ball," it's a similar effort to blend roots elements with studio-generated atmosphere.

A promising direction, but to reach its potential it needs a world with more than tears.

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Albums are rated on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair) and one star (poor). Albums reviewed have been released except as indicated.

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