Blessed - Lucinda Williams

In a very enticing turnaround new method for selling old masterpieces yet again, labels have taken to the practice of reissuing keystone albums in varying configurations, one of the rarest instances being to sketchily reduplicate the original as a quasi-version of itself, often in basement, demo, and alternative cuts, most frequently with other songs interspersed. Lucinda Williams has decided to ace 'em all and issue Blessed immediately in a twofer, the first disc the standard issuance, the second the 'Kitchen Tapes' version. I must confess to having long loved such practices (Moody Blues, Dylan, Marillion, the Who, etc.), especially when the originals are let loose again in remasterings - because, sweet Jesus, some of those old LP engineerings sucked! - and then augmented as lavishly as possible, but I think this is the first time I've seen the trick done in track by track exactitude by the artist and without waiting for the CD to go classic. Righteous!

Thus, it was with more than a little surprise that Blessed started out with a raw late period Beatles flavor, guest Elvis Costello cutting a whole new groove into the aluminum and plastic - and I don't know what amp and gee-tar he's wielding, but both have gotta be vintage 'cause there's a 60s raucousness dripping out of the speakers as I listen. Thus, thinks me to meself, check out the Kitchen version right now! and see what happens. Sure enough, it's just Williams sitting miked-up in her digs, exerting the foundation composition in a Dylan-esque version, intimate and un-messed-with. Thus, the two sides of the recording aisle illustrate Williams' simultaneous profundity and skin-level vulnerability, virtues perhaps best found in the difference between her ragged singing and written words. Heart on sleeve, she manages to be your next door neighbor and psychiatrist at the same time, as broken by life as thee, brother and sister, but carefully showing the omnipresence of hope as clouds move through and chill winds blow.

The photos in the liner and booklet likewise evoke duality, snaps of people who sure as hell ain't from Pacific Palisades or Martha's Vineyard, all a bit down on their luck but holding placards with "Blessed" scrawled on 'em. Val McCallum and Greg Leisz underscore the sentiment in laconic pedal, steel, slide, electric, and acoustic guitar decorations wiping a tear from ragged faces, just a few inches above a rueful smile looking out upon the workaday as they trudge their paces in forlorn days begging "Please, please, please convince me / Tell me so it makes sense to me / How much better it's all going to be", a plea particularly poignant as country and world drown in the lunacies of psychotic conservatism (a redundancy) and malignantly concentrated wealth...among myriad other afflictions. Thus, I'm not sure the title cut, with its optimistic sea of benevolent storm-tossed souls sighing, is at peace with the rest of the CD, but it certainly is a deliciously ambivalent melancholy, and few leave it at the back door as skillfully as Lucinda. You may have heard her before but not quite so weary and resigned, yet dazedly and doggedly accepting, as here.

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