record reviews


Lucinda Williams

Album: “Blessed” (Lost Highway)

Grade: A

Lucinda Williams built her reputation in the 1990s with a series of stunning albums that detailed, with tender insight, a turbulent life filled with reckless men and a rambling search for meaning in the heart of modern America.

Now happily married and in her 50s, Williams has sometimes struggled to bring the same passion and clarity to a life more settled. With 2008’s uneven “Little Honey,” she sang of personal fulfillment in terms both spiritual and sexual, while ramping up the blues-rock component of her ragged, roots-based sound.

The title of her new album, “Blessed,” may suggest more songs of bliss. However, Williams now looks outside her own heart and experiences — and proves she can be just as moving when singing about others instead of herself.

She keeps the music rough yet tightly arranged, juxtaposing raw guitar rockers with gentle acoustic tidings, similar to Neil Young’s eclectic Americana style. Williams still focuses on characters living outside of society, as in the heartbreaking “I Don’t Know How You’re Livin’,” but now it’s with a maternal concern rather than as a fellow traveler.

“Blessed” brings back the grace with which Williams sees the world — an openhearted, unflinching honesty that continues to make her music a sweet blessing.

— Michael McCall, Associated Press

Aaron Lewis

Album: “Town Line” (Stroudavarious)

Grade: B

Rock singers have occasionally recorded country songs since ... well, the beginning of rock ’n’ roll. But Aaron Lewis, lead singer of heavy metal band Staind, is the least likely to cross that line since James Hetfield of Metallica joined Hank Williams Jr. onstage for a tribute to outlaw music.

Lewis references Hank Jr. in the plainly stated “Country Boy,” the first single from his solo country EP, “Town Line.” Lewis sometimes leans to the rocking side of country, using crashing drums and thrashing guitar chords reminiscent of Jason Aldean. But his talents as a country singer surface just as convincingly on the tender “Tangled Up in You” and in “Massachusetts,” a midtempo ode to traditional family concerns.

If anything, the song “Country Boy” oversells Lewis’ connection to the rural lifestyle too stridently, harping on pickup trucks, down-home values, freedom and a belligerent attitude toward anyone critical of his principles.

But when the singer’s deeply textured croon settles into a more pastoral sound, the country boy in Lewis emerges more persuasively. He injects a flavor of his own into a polished, commercial country sound in a way that could win over country fans who’ve never heard of Staind.

— Michael McCall, Associated Press

LYKKE LI

Album: “Wounded Rhymes”

Grade: A

Lykke Li’s debut “Youth Novels” was a dance album brimming with childlike exuberance, from the charming “Dance, Dance, Dance” to the innocent “Little Bit.”

Um, something happened.

On “Wounded Rhymes” (LL/Atlantic), Li grows into her dark side, unleashing the empty country-tinged echo of “Unrequited Love” and the defiant “Silent My Song.” ‘’Sadness Is a Blessing” revives ‘60s girl groups, while “Rich Kids Blues” could be her Swedish interpretation of Arcade Fire. Luckily, Li handles heartache as well as she handled happiness.

— Glenn Gamboa, Long Island Newsday

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