Toss the knives out the window. Lucinda Williams’ ninth album swells with an escalating surplus of sadness as she mourns her mother’s passing and a grinding break-up that could drive anyone over the edge. To some, the water rising motif won’t be a shocker. But, here on “West,” Williams is drowning – and we’re going down with her.
The aching “Are You Alright?” achieves a stellar, repetitive chorus that breaks with the kind of eerie absence that leaves Williams in the dust, yearning for some sign of a dear one’s abrupt up-and-go. On the album’s bulk, her scarred southern voice aches, resistant to reaching any upward vocal release. Since “West” is fitted in sorrow, it works.
The stark melody of “Mama You Sweet” is draped under a missing-mom ode that launches with an endearing refrain and movingly blends an empty sound with her cracked voice. Dampened gems “Learning How To Live” and “Everything Has Changed” further her stomped-on heart – the former beaded in moving-on motivation – but the overlong “Wrap My Head Around That” fails to resonate with its semi-rap and lazy vocals.
On “West,” Williams’ quieter cuts soar. When the roots musician sheds that shroud, like on the howling but miscast kiss-off “Come On,” the sound suffers. On eye-opening “Fancy Funeral” Williams and co-producer Hal Willner accomplish a drawn-out sonic flair that subtly suits her poetic lyrics, challenging the money we dish out for funerals when, in the end, nothing will dilute our misery, or fill the void.
As the whimsical title track slowly unravels, she artistically and personally resurrects herself as she exudes hope on newfound terrain, where she urges someone – maybe us — to take this redeeming trip with her. Because, out West, there’s a drought that could dry this mess up.