Lucinda Williams

World Without Tears

Altcountry singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams often requires listeners to give her work the benefit of the doubt; on her seventh album, World Without Tears, she practically demands it. On this raspy outing, Williams masks her trademark high-quality songsmithing behind a veil of piercing jam-band guitars and snarly roots-rock rapping, stylistic choices that may test the endurance of her more traditionally oriented followers. First impressions can be deceiving, though, and devoted fans who revisit this record will be amply rewarded. As it turns out, the grating Tom Petty-ish songs are few in number, merely rough edges on an untumbled gem. Those who savor Williams' uncanny skill at crafting subtle, downcast ballads will find several gorgeous new classics, such as "Ventura," "Overtime," and "Those Three Days," although they are subsumed by the album's overall sense of raw, raunchy, somewhat shocking eroticism. At the ripe old age of 50, when most folk musicians start recording children's songs and aging rockers join oldies tours, Williams surges forth with a fierce, forceful album that equates sex with a scorpion's sting, and loneliness with sheer carnal desire. She's always been a pensive writer, but something about this record feels defiant and exuberant, roisterous rather than bummed out. Williams takes delight in painting the dingy details of life lived hard (two separate songs mention puking in a toilet bowl); horniness, heartbreak, and renewal form her canvas. The electrified rock songs may draw a new audience to her work, but as long as she balances them with the moments of grace, the faithful can't complain.

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