Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To sink and to drown - the raw world of Lucinda Williams

Today I have been listening to an album that I surely would never have noticed had my friend Jon not raved about it so much and, more to the point, bought it for me. Lucinda Williams – World Without Tears, tucked away at the back of the country section at JB Hi Fi.

Lucinda Williams’ voice is clear, raw and honest, at times almost unbearably so, but only unbearable because the story she tells is one that all of us are familiar with – the story of love on the edge: on the edge of loss, on the edge of pain, on the edge of meaninglessness; love that is always ambiguous, elusive, confused; love that hurts much more than it comforts, and yet love that we keep searching for and chasing, against the odds. It’s a bleak, grim picture of love that is painted here – but it’s painted in music that mixes its pain, its beauty, and its honesty with such unpretentious ease, that you find you are connecting with it, in spite of yourself. These songs are everyone’s songs.

The picture is set right from the opening song, “Fruits of my Labor”, where a trembling guitar weeps its way through a song of loss and sadness.

But World Without Tears is anything but a soppy, sentimental album. It shows the dirty, hard side of love, like in “Righteously”, with its hint of a brief affair that is over even before it has really begun, to a slow, soft rock beat and some interludes on the electric guitar that are full of a passion, a sensuality, that is as intense as it is brief. Or in the yearning for love in “Ventura”, where despair seems to permeate nature itself, to music that slips and slides in grief, almost like you can feel the soul, and the body, slumping down together, defeated.

Listen to the rough, angry blues of “Atonement” – full of bitterness and rage – but, wow, what fantastic music! Or to the swinging country rock of “Sweet Side”, with its almost scary picture of a relationship held together by a belief that, despite the abuse and aggression, there might be something worth holding onto.

Listen, too, to “American Dream”, possibly the darkest song on the album. It is murky music, spoken more than sung, like someone telling you their bitter, bitter story, after a few too many whiskeys at a bar, and yet you find yourself diving into it, even though you know you might drown there.

The music on World Without Tears is a kind of country/folk/rock mix that takes the best of all the genres and blends them into something that sounds comfortable and familiar, despite the bitterness and sadness of the songs themselves. The result is an odd feeling – almost as if the sorrow and heartache and darkness are just part of the human condition – which, of course, they are.

The title song tells us that ultimately tears are part of life – “If we lived in a world without tears/How would bruises find/The face to lie upon/How would scars find skin/To etch themselves into/How would broken find the bones”. You could say it’s a bleak view of the world – and it is – but, like with so many things, it’s the superb music – bleeding its honesty and rawness from start to finish – that makes it worth listening to, and that ultimately convinces you to stay.

Many thanks to Jon – both for the recommendation, and for the disc! Not an easy listen but, in every sense, a great one!

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