Lucinda Williams built her reputation in the 1990s with a series of stunning albums that detailed, with tender insight, a turbulent life filled with reckless men and a rambling search for meaning in the heart of modern America.
Now happily married and in her 50s, Williams has sometimes struggled to bring the same passion and clarity to a life more settled. With 2008's uneven "Little Honey," she sang of personal fulfillment in terms both spiritual and sexual, while ramping up the blues-rock component of her ragged, roots-based sound.
The title of her new album, "Blessed," may suggest more songs of bliss. However, Williams now looks outside her own heart and experiences - and proves she can be just as moving when singing about others instead of herself.
She keeps the music rough yet tightly arranged, juxtaposing raw guitar rockers with gentle acoustic tidings, similar to Neil Young's eclectic Americana style. Williams still focuses on characters living outside of society, as in the heartbreaking "I Don't Know How You're Livin'," but now it's with a maternal concern rather than as a fellow traveler.
What "Blessed" brings back is the charitable grace with which Williams sees the world - an openhearted yet unflinching honesty that continues to make her music a sweet blessing in a tough world.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: "Seeing Black" isn't the first time Williams has written about a friend's suicide. But this time she's joined by Elvis Costello on guitar (but not vocals), for a seething rocker that's as angry as it is mournful.