CD reviews

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 May, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 May, 2003, 12:00am

Lucinda Williams

World Without Tears

(Lost Highway)

There is a certain symmetry in Lucinda Williams touring with the father of heartland rock and grandaddy of grunge, Neil Young.

Williams' seventh album in an itinerant 30-year career is her most blatant rock proclamation yet and a clear statement of purpose from one of the finest songsmiths, in any genre, working today.

After the tidal wave of praise heaped upon her in the wake of 2001's unusually sombre Essence, she has wisely upped the tempo for what deserves to be hailed as one of the landmark releases of 2003.

Williams is clearly at the crossroads of her career - she turned 50 in January - and seems intent to make good on all that critical acclaim.

The first single, Righteously, is a slightly bawdy and decidedly rowdy study of sex and longing directed at an indifferent lover with whom she pleads 'don't play no games, just play me John Coltrane'. Few artists could pull off a reference to the saxophone great without it sounding contrived - here, it sounds beautiful and from the heart.

Williams invests so much of herself in her songs that it's hard not to be moved by their visceral quality. She has clearly lived through it, and wants everyone to know.

Her influences range from Patti Smith to Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan to Dylan Thomas. So when she growls through the country-rocker, Real Live Bleeding Fingers, it could be the Stones circa Exile On Main Street. While the blues stomp of Atonement would make The White Stripes and the garage brigade sit up and take notes.

There are occasional mellow moments. The opener, Fruits Of My Labour, is a brooding straight-ahead country ballad with some of the sweetest couplets ever to fall from her pen.