Blessed, Lucinda Williams's 10th long-player, opens with a big, brassy blues lick — the kind of faux-raucous guitar curlicue you'd normally expect to hear on a Big and Rich single. But before anyone can accuse Williams of going Nashville-soft, she opens her mouth to sing: "You talk about all the junk you did like you talk about climbing trees," she growls. Her voice — low, throaty, dark — gets deeper and craggier with each new breath. These aren't Nashville pipes.
Lucinda Williams is arguably one of the finest country-rock vocalists of all time, and on Blessed, her vocals are — once again — impossibly compelling (textured and unapologetic, they certainly give new credence to the old "whisky-soaked" cliché). In the past, Williams has sung about lost love (and lovers getting lost, and losing herself in love), but she's 58 now, and even the kiss-offs here (like opener "Buttercup," which sees Williams crowing "You already sucked me dry, can't do it anymore, honey," at some unnamed paramour) are surprisingly optimistic. On the album's title track, a spare little ballad that blossoms as it goes, Williams sings of forgiveness, and of striving to do better: "We were blessed by the poor man who said 'Heaven is within reach'," she sings. Williams might be working towards something like acceptance, but she's still a punk at heart, and Blessed, with its rollicking guitar and world-weary lyrics, proves Williams hasn't lost her edge just yet.