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Blessed

4.2 out of 5 stars 84 customer reviews

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Multimedia CD, 2011
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Editorial Reviews

2011 album from three-time Grammy Award-winner. Considered by many to be one of America's greatest living songwriters, Williams lives up to that and more by delivering 12 songs that cover an even wider emotional spectrum than her previous work, without moving too far in any one direction. It's nothing new to see Williams tug at the heartstrings and stimulate the mind with her songs, but there is a vibe throughout Blessed that is unique to this album in-particular. It's the sound of the wisdom and experience Williams has gained through her years as an uncompromising talent. Combine that with Grammy Award-winning producer Don Was at the helm, and something special is born. Was co-produced Blessed with Eric Liljestrand and Tom Overby, who co-produced Williams highly-praised Little Honey (2008). Blessed features special guests Rami Jaffe on keyboards, Matthew Sweet on vocals Greg Leisz and Elvis Costello on guitar.
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (March 1, 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Lost Highway
  • ASIN: B004HGBUXE
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,312 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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With the eminent status she has achieved in American song Lucinda Williams could not be blamed for coasting a bit. Much time has passed since the two decades of largely unheeded obsessive perfection that predated her late-90s breakthrough.

How fortunate that "Blessed" finds her lyrical and melodic powers at their zenith. Fresh, blazing inspiration is especially evident in spite of her droll, cool-as-cucumber delivery.

The tempo is subdued, but not in the vein of "Essence" or "West," which were immensely tortured and soul-searching by comparison. A decidedly less precious approach to the songs' overall execution plays to their strengths because Williams' outlook, while still immense with thought and world-weariness, is less clenched and more relaxed. Clipped, factual acceptance is therefore fitting in its thematic dominance.

"Buttercup," one of the few upbeat selections, does not set the stage with its classic rock feel and almost boisterous sense of levity as Williams criticizes a former flame in a nonetheless dignified manner. Its chorus is ingratiating with full throttle guitars and percussion. "Seeing Black," written for Vic Chesnutt, does not cast judgment on the troubled singer/songwriter's suicide but scratches the wounds of those left behind. She probes his motivation with a series of unanswerable questions amid searing guitar work from Elvis Costello.

The shrewdly observed, expertly executed title track finds affirmation in unlikely places - "we were blessed by the neglected child who knew how to forgive/we were blessed by the battered woman who did not seek revenge" - and exemplifies Williams' signature incisive simplicity, the backbone of her talent.
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I don't have a problem with Lucinda William, though having said that, I can certainly see where others may. I don't believe that fans would be as hard on her and her material had it come from self-destructive artists like Gram Parsons, or Townes Van Zandt ... after all, Lucinda's been as self-destructive as any of them, she's just managed to survive. Her music is often raw, certainly deeply felt, and even at its worst, it's straight from the heart. Lucinda's put out ten albums, that's a huge body of work, not to mention her songwriting credits on other's releases. Even the great Bob Dylan only managed to put out four amazingly perfect albums, and they came out right in a row, a natural progression, before he felt that he'd lost his muse. But I'm getting ahead of myself, with the point being that I've always edited the work of Lucinda Williams, taken the songs that rolled though my head like thunderstorms, memorized the ones that set my feet to dancing on the lonely open road, and cried over the ones that broke my heart. No one says that I've gotta dig every song, sometimes just one song, the right one, is all that I need ... Lucinda Williams is that kind of artist.

"Blessed" is an entirely different story, "Blessed," as uncomfortable as the title is for me, certainly is [in that special way]. This is no doubt the most elegant sophisticated album she's brought to the table, full of alternative country images, ringing guitars, gentle blues, and one bone numbing shiver after another. Much of that is in part due to Don Was, who has a knack for finding the essence [no pun intended], and allowing it to flower with a richness unimagined ... though to her credit, I would contend that this is just how Lucinda heard it in her head.
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Lucinda is back with a set of extremely well crafted, poetic songs. The music has a consistent tenor and mood. I prefer the acoustic "kitchen" disc because her melodies and her voice stand out in a beautiful honesty. The band supported disc is also an artistic statement sounding hushed,thoughtful, with candles in a darkened room feel. On the band disc her melodies are only hinted at and her voice is filled with whisper and innuendo, sometimes halting and sounding a bit weary. What I really like about both discs is their originality. Barely any echoes to past songs, except perhaps in theme. This one stands up there with her best. The kitchen disc is a must.
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I almost didn't order this CD ( I couldn't listen to her recent Little Honey, nor had much interest in West, preferring instead what she did last century, Lucinda Williams (Reis), Sweet Old World, and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road or even the more commercial sounding releases from the early '00 Essence and World Without Tears), but did, due to some glowing pre-reviews, and I'm SO glad.

This could be her best recording yet, the perfect balance of raw vocals and tight polished instrumentation. The main disc is what really counts here, the second "Kitchen Tapes", is nice as a bonus, but wouldn't be much on it's own (demo-like solo versions which sound more like her earliest albums, but not as good).

The songwriting here covers pretty much Lucinda's familiar turf (love, loss, suicide, redemption, sacrifice, and renewal). It isn't so much new, as just really well done - including all the elements that she has done so well for so long. And this is what makes it remarkable, that it sounds so good, so fresh, so real, again.
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