Monday, January 20, 2014

Great Expectations, or Lucinda Williams vs. Santa Claus, Jesus and Herself

Sometimes I do the worst thing someone can do to an artist. I compare their newer work to their older work, almost knowing I’ll be disappointed. I’m hoping the artist can somehow leap over the Wall of Pessimism I’ve built in my head. Alas, Jaybee’s Wall of Pessimism makes the one in "Game of Thrones" seem like a slight incline.

Why do I do this? Well, there’s, J&R selling what few CDs they still have for $3.99. (The good ones, anyway.) And there’s also how some records insist on showing up on every "Greatest Albums of the Century This Week" list the internets can come up with.

Like this 1990 follow up to her 1988 classic self titled album, which is slightly disappointing in comparison, but also more fun in comparison to the slightly overrated Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.

SOW contains a couple of my favorite Lucinda moments - “Something About What Happens When We Talk”, which shows how her quirky singing can find more melody than what’s actually written down, and “He Never Got Enough Love”, whose melody and passionate delivery more than make up for the cliche in the title. Some of these songs kept my Americana station from wearing out its welcome a lot sooner than it did.

But the problem this record has to overcome is how to keep the music fresh when you’re working in a rigidly defined genre, and it didn’t fail to disappoint. LW managed to be bouncy and energetic and emotional all at once. This gets, in turn, serious, moving and melodic but rarely at the same time. It keeps up with its predecessor just fine for the first five tracks, but starts to wear down during “Pineola”, which underlines the mention of a gunshot with a smack of the drums (kind of cheesy), and where I’m supposed to be impressed with the mention of “the Pentecost”. And yet, it’s a good song, as are all the rest, none of which are great, except for the Nick Drake cover.

But I ask too much! Not only was her prior record wonderful, it was also a quintessential holiday record, stamping itself on my December (of what year, I wonder), So it occupies a hallowed place in my psyche. By an unfortunate coincidence, I happened to get SOW during a another pre-Thanksgiving record store drop in, when I set my expectations way too high to begin with.  So there’s another hurdle to jump.

And, as Mrs. Jaybee can tell you, it takes some doing to for anything to make its way into Jaybee’s brain. The fact that SOW hasn't yet just means I have a good album instead of a great one. Check in with me again in six months. B+

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