Lucinda Williams

Last seen hereabouts a few weeks back as the prelude to Neil Young's odd Greendale trip, Williams was aptly paired. Young's artistic whimsy causes him to falter as often as triumph--the indelible mark of an artist at work--and Williams is now far enough along in her run to show a similar proclivity toward muse-induced missteps that can still charm. After all, World Without Tears could be alternately tagged as Album Without Songs--you don't come away singing about "Passionate Kisses" or how "The Night's Too Long"--yet she still makes it all work through the pungency of her raw expressiveness. It's a live-in-the-studio blast that's not so much in your face as it is gnawing at your soul. And as Williams strides through a wasteland of darkness and sorrow with the resolute strength of some Joan of Arkansas, her finally solidified backing band rides squarely by her side with guitarist Doug Pettibone slashing out sharp runs, fills and figures like a master swordsman. So even if it is slim in the song department, the album's accent on bad-ass, Delta-belle rocking, following the subtle if buried pleasures many missed on Essence, nonetheless helps confirm her ascension to Major Artist sainthood. And within the intimate confines of the Tea Room, Williams and company promise to bring the affecting soulfulness of her real woman's blues to full boil.