Lucinda Williams, Sweet Old World

sweet-old-worldI did write about Sweet Old World some years ago, when I realized what a warm and extraordinary collection of songs it was.  I loved how pure, how simple a song like “Something About What Happens When We Talk” could be – exploring the loneliness that lurks between two people who think so fondly of each other.  I loved that she made tire irons and casseroles sound sexy in the rollicking yodel classic “Hot Blood.”  Now, I hear something else also – it’s 17 years later into Williams’s career, where she first indulged her country muse to great perfection in Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, and then remade our understanding of desire and loneliness in aging from Essence even through her “happy” 2008 release Little HoneySweet Old World is as much of an evocation of her consciousness at the time as any of those records are.

This is where the country songs were more simple and lovely, opening with “Six Blocks Away,” which could have been a jaunty, great country single.  This record, though, is a happy record marked by great grief and disappointment.  She sings of her brother’s death, gorgeously, in “Little Angel, Little Brother,” and a friend’s suicide with tremendous mystery and excitement in “Pineola.”  She tells, with stark, elevating simplicity, the story of a woman compromising her ideals in “Memphis Pearl.”  She even closes the record with a deeply naked, 3 a.m. cover of Nick Drake’s “Which Will,” which sounds, actually, like the themes Williams wants to approach.

I do now think there are themes on Sweet Old World, and I mostly feel that way from the two songs that stand out to me the most, although all are great songs here.  The first is the title track, “Sweet Old World,” in which Williams, presumably to her brother, asks someone to notice all the wonderful elements of the world that were so extraordinary, and lost when that person killed himself.  This could be a song of great sadness, but it isn’t – it’s a song of strength and wonder.  That’s even truer for “Sidewalks of the City,” which is as simple as it sounds – a sweet, quiet walk at 3 a.m. down a city street, bars closing, bums sleeping in doorways.  Yet she sings to a lover, “Hold me, baby, give me some strength… give me good things, tell me that my world is safe.”  Again, this could be a song of loneliness, of sadness, of fear.  Instead, it’s a plea of appreciation, of loving the world around, of begging, as she does, for grace.  I’ve loved the Williams who later in life got lonely and sang so precisely about it.  This is the Williams I love for wanting, so gorgeously, to truly be in the world.

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