Lucinda Williams Blessed

It's been fairly clear from the tone of the opening tracks of Lucinda Williams' last few albums what the overall mood will be. Particularly, "Are You Alright" on 2007's West kicked off a heartbreaking song cycle of loss and regret, while "Real Love," from the following year's Little Honey, showed Williams chomping at the bit to rock once again. Blessed's opener, "Buttercup," is a combination of the two; Williams casts a defiant stance (as only she can) against a man who expects the wrong things from her, a message that does indeed carry through the rest of the album, albeit in subtle ways. This is familiar territory for Williams and should also be for her long-time fans. In short, it means there is nothing immediately compelling about Blessed, apart from the expected high quality of Williams' writing. The performances on the whole are live and loose ― half the tracks clock in at over five minutes ― and are, above all, understated. The intimate atmosphere eventually does get under the skin though, making the album ultimately feel like an annual visit with an old friend. At its conclusion, all that's left to say is, "until next time, be well." (Lost Highway/Universal)