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on May 3, 2006
This mournful, erotic album is my favorite of Lucinda Willams work. I'm not usually a fan of female singers who play guitar, but this lady is a real musician, a poet and an emotional magician. She writes her own music and lyrics - plays on her heartstrings, sings from her soul. Her rough but vulnerable, husky, cowgirl voice tells you all you need to know about late nights in bars, too much booze, cigarettes, and a long time looking - and longing - for that one guy.

Her songs are deceptively simple. Their power comes from her images, her delivery and the way the music supports the lyrics. "Lonely Girls," the first cut, sets the stage for the rest. The brisk, light melody, juxtaposed against her sorrowful wail, pushes the sadness deeper. Backup for the predatory "I'm Gonna Steal Your Love," beats like an excited heart. She drags out the words, savoring every anticipated pleasure. The slow, rocking instrumental to "I Envy the Wind," and her voice, almost breaking with sorrow as she tenderly, and with exquisite sensuality, describes the way the elements are free to touch the one she longs for, is painful to hear. The words to "Blue" create the most delicate and beautiful images of the color blue - that particular deep, purple blue that suddenly surprises the eyes and the heart in an ordinary moment. But the lodestone at the center of this amazing album is the pulsing, and obsessive "Essence," with a beat that drives her passionate lyrics of carnal cravings to a boiling point.

In between these heated cuts are tender, sad songs of lost loves. The last cut, " Broken Butterflies," is a personal message to a lover whose anger destroys beauty and love. All this is the stuff of lonely girls.

The music ranges from the whining, bleeding sound of country and western, to jazzy blues. Especially delicious are: the sultry openings for "Are You Down," and the sexy, staccato guitar opening for "Can't Put the Rain Back in the Sky," with it's organ echo, and. punctuated drum beat with a brushed whisper.

The only cut that seems out of place is "Get Right With God." Perhaps a little penance is necessary after these hot, lustful numbers. It's the most upbeat number on the whole album. Maybe we needed it.
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on June 5, 2001
Yes, I know...everyone went insane over Lucinda's last recording, the stellar "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road"-the narratives about dead ex-lovers and dead friends, and I suppose everyone was waiting for more of the same. But let's face it-she's only got a certain number of friends or lovers who have met tragic ends. She's explored the ground of being a Child in the backseat/About 4 or 5 years/Lookin' out the window/A little bit of dirt mixed with tears This record deals with feelings that everyone has felt at one time or another: longing (Bus to Baton Rouge, I Envy the Wind) lust(Essence, Steal Your Love), loneliness (Lonely Girls)...plus other topics ranging from religious ecstacy to weariness over dealing with someone who can't let go of the past. "Essence" may be a departure from Lucinda's last record, but its a departure that is as rich and beautiful as anything on her previous records. The instrumentation is flawless, the writing is intense and intensely personal, and her voice tells you she's lived every song. This record needs to be in your collection.
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on July 2, 2001
Well, judging by the reviews posted here, all the one-timers who bought and appreciated Car Wheels just don't get it with Lucinda. This is her best work if you are a fan, and if you're not, don't waste your cash and go back to mainstream country where you belong. Yes, story-telling journeys through the bayous and pool halls of the South are fertile territory for great songs, and the up-tempo songs like Passionate Kisses and 6 Blocks Away were fun, but the purest, most honest and ultimately best artistic works come straight from the heart, and Essence has that kind of emotional intensity at its rawest. I don't know if this makes sense to the casual fan, but if you really love Lucinda's earlier works, you owe it to yourself to listen to this at least 10 times before you dismiss it. It's her best work, and bravest, and that says a lot. She really is our unique songwriting treasure.
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on August 14, 2006
This is quite possibly Lucinda Williams finest recorded work to date. I have no option but to award five well deserved stars. The songs and production are certainly not as immediately impressive as Car Wheels or World Without Tears. However, what we have is a superbly crafted and subtly understated work that rewards repeated listening through masterful and poetic use of lyrics, heatbreaking vocal expression, and near-perfect arrangements. It is wonderfully successful on all levels. There are no weak tracks, and I invariably listen to all 11 without skipping. The title track is a favourite; one of the sexiest things I've ever heard.
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on November 9, 2001
I really liked Sweet Old World and loved Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, but I was totally unprepared for this CD which literally just ripped my heart completely out. From these reviews I guess some Lucinda fans see the simple lyrics and spare arrangements as dull or lazy, to me they're clearly deliberate and integral to the raw yet poetic tone of the entire recording, which often ventures beyond her country/folk roots to a more elemental mode of musical expression. While very simple, when taken in context with the mood and delivery (what delivery!) of each song, these stripped-down lyrics have incredible strength by virtue of their powerful and emotionally charged imagery. I found myself ready to cry halfway through my first listen to "Lonely Girls" and was pretty much a helpless wreck through the remainder of the CD. It's still incredibly powerful about two dozen listenings later. Some tracks are of course stronger than others (and the live loop effects do get a little tiresome), but on the whole this is the most intimate, unaffected, sensual and heartbreaking music I've heard in a very long time. It's been haunting me day and night since I first heard it.
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If Neil Young was a woman, he'd probably be Lucinda Williams; both have that world-weary angst, both have rather thin voices that are decidely not pretty, but that carry a lot of power and emotion. Both are totally unique and brilliant, and write with an honesty that is rare these days.
In this collection of mellow songs, Lucinda explores God, lust and loneliness, and in very simple phrases captures a world of human emotions.
The musicianship is superb, and among the deluxe performers that play along with Lucinda on acoustic guitar are: Jim Keltner on drums; Tony Garnier on bass; Bo Ramsey on electric guitar; David Mansfield on violin and viola; Reese Wynans on Hammond B3 organ, and Charlie Sexton on a myriad of instruments
Favorites for me are "I Envy the Wind", with lyrics that every woman can identify with at one time or another in her life, "Are You Down", with such great work from Bo Ramsey and Reese Wynans, the hungry for love title song, and the fabulous "Get Right with God", which is the only up-tempo number on the CD.
The daughter of poet Miller Williams, Lucinda's songs have been covered by singers like Patty Loveless ("Night's Too Long") and Mary Chapin Carpenter ("Passonate Kisses"), and have earned her the coveted Grammy Award. Gutsy and gritty, this CD shows an artist that has character, and the strength to stand alone in a world full of copycats. The booklet insert contains all the lyrics, and total playing time is 51'03.
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on June 7, 2001
Fans who were taken in by the bowl-you-over approach of Lucinda's previous album, 1998's "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road," may find "Essence" a tad understated and even a little dull. But given the slightest chance, "Essense" can be easily recognized as a brilliant 11-song meditation on love and desire, complete with across-the-board stellar performances from Lucinda and all the recording artists who contributed. This collection is a complex hybrid of rock, folk, country and blues. Lucinda's voice seems effortless and is lackadaisical and powerful with its delivery, especially on the tracks "Essence," "Steal Your Love," and "Are You Down." However, Lucinda's ultimate power on this collection is her ability to evoke maximum emotion from a listener with a minimalist approach to the lyrics and almost paralyzing instrumentations. Never one to rest on her laurels, Lucinda has produced another cutting-edge collection that should keep her fans entertained and perplexed for quite some time. A great piece of work. Simply great.
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on December 29, 2006
I just discovered this amazing singer-songwriter about two years ago with World Without Tears,a cross between Neil Young and Billie Holiday might be stating it too simply, but the first rate songwriting and real emotion to spare are undeniable, Bus to Baton Rouge literally brings me to the point of tears on almost every listening, I highly reccomend this and the other two cd's I have, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road and World Without Tears.Not a bad track to be found. Can't wait to see her live.
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on July 10, 2001
If Lucinda Williams' masterpiece Car Wheels On A Gravel Road is her equivalent of Dylan's Blood On The Tracks, then Essence is her version of Desire. Following the emotional intensity of Blood On The Tracks, Bob Dylan followed that album up the next year with a more relaxed, mysterious record. The same can be said for Essence.
I'll come straight out and say it: Essence is no Car Wheels...; it isn't in the same league. However, I admire Williams for coming right back (hey, 2 1/2 years is awfully quick for her!) with an almost toally different sounding record. Instead of the impeccable, big Steve Earle sound created by Williams and the Twangtrust on its predecessor, Essence, co-produced by Williams and Bob Dylan cohort Charlie Sexton (Dylan's musical director, Tony Garnier, also plays bass on the album), sounds like a relaxed demo tape with minimal overdubs. This fact is driven home by the fact that the album starts off with four extremely mellow songs: the sing-song 'Lonely Girls', the sultry 'Steal Your Love', the bare-bones, brittle 'I Envy The Wind', and the aching 'Blue'. The album picks up in the songs 'Out Of Touch' (whose chord progressions bear a remarkable similarity to Bruce Springsteen's 'The River'), 'Are You Down' and 'Get Right With God', but things never really take off; instead, Essence maintains a deliberately down-tempo, dreamy pace.
Essence lacks the spectacular songs that Car Wheels... had like 'Right In Time', 'Drunken Angel', and 'Metal Firecracker', but its title track is the one that comes closest. Over a blues riff, Williams gruffly echoes the desire in 'Right In Time', but this time she increases the intensity, singing, "Baby, sweet baby, kiss me hard/make me wonder who's in charge." The six-minute song is the album's high point, as well as its emotional centre.
Williams' lyrical themes are more introspective on Essence, but there are also the old tried-and-true themes like religious salvation ('Get Right With God') and Southern town name-dropping (Bus To Baton Rouge'), and her singing sounds more fragile and vulnerable than on her previous album. During 'I Envy The Wind', it sounds like her voice might crack at any second. Still present, though, is her charming, marblemouthed, Southern drawl, which is best exemplified when she sings "I'm on' hafta steal yer love." Who could resist that?
Essence is far from perfect, and some listeners might be put off by the five or six slower songs, but an imperfect Lucinda Williams album is still far better than most of what you'll hear this year. After the passionate songs about juke joints, cars, concrete, barbed wire, and drunken angels on Car Wheels..., Williams' new cd is like waking up on a Sunday morning after a wild Saturday night and simply taking it easy.
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on April 29, 2003
I had to hear "Carwheels" daily at one point in time. "Essence" took a few listens but the beauty soon sinks in from the music, the instrumentation which is very simple and beautifully,tastefully done, the imagery from Lucinda's lyrics and the wonderful singing. The imagery is very clear. As in the song "Carwheels", "Bus to Baton Rouge" conjurs up images of a sensitive and open child. One is compelled to sing the beautiful chorus. Other songs are just plain erotic. I turned some freinds on to "Essence" and they need to hear it every day.
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