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A Mellower, More Mature Lucinda

Lucinda Williams - Essence
(Lost Highway)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: July 14, 2001

Lucinda Williams

By Tony Bonyata

Although it would seem that singer / songwriter Lucinda Williams has a lot to prove on her sixth album Essence, this Louisiana gal seems to be following an instinctive heart rather than a rational head.
While her first four albums hardly made a splash, her 1998 album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road roared into the hearts of not only her fans but critics worldwide as well, helping to achieve gold record status. Her passionate vocals and gritty, emotionally charged songs on that album gave the alt-country movement their new queen.
But rather than simply following a proven formula, Williams has down-shifted gears on Essence, producing a more mature, if not mellower and slower paced record.
While there are still a couple of songs that kick up a little dirt, such as the pleading self-titled single, where she begs, "kiss me hard, make me know who's in charge," along with the boogie-chillen "Get Right With God" that does a foot-kicking jig through a Pentecostal church, most of this album is a much more subdued collection of songs.
And while that could be the only negative aspect of Essence, over time it's, surprisingly, also revealed as one of it's strengths. Although her spirit sounds a bit more broken at times - with one slow tempo song after another, she also sounds as if she's found an inner peace with herself. Her sultry vocals resonate a vulnerable truth and honesty throughout, making us want to find the beauty in each number - which is undoubtedly there to be discovered. She explores her country roots on the lilting lullabies "Bus To Baton Rouge" and "I Envy The Wind" while showing off her talents as a balladeer on the fragile numbers as "Broken Butterflies," "Are You Down" and "Steal Your Love."
With an attitude that shows that she's not playing up to anybody's expectations but her own, Lucinda Williams is wearing her heart and her songs on her sleeve - showing us the real essence of this talented artist.

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