How do you follow a Grammy winning album of mostly upbeat, country tunes played by a full sounding, hard-playing band? The easy answer would have been to dish up more of the same, not to waver from the successful formula established on 'Car Wheels On A Gravel Road'. Not so, if you're Lucinda Williams.
Essence strips down the arrangements and slows the pace of the songs to a melancholic crawl, and while the band arrangements remain, songs here are driven by softly played acoustic guitar. And it is every bit as magical as the much-loved 'Car Wheels', but Williams has added a new dimension of intimacy. On tracks such as Blue, where her voice is so prominent in the mix, you can feel and hear the emotion and raw beauty of the simple tune. Listen to this through headphones and it sounds phenomenal, as if she were in the room with you.
Standout track is the title track, a grinding, slow-burning ode to sexual desire and lust which features the most astonishing backing vocal performance from Gary Louris (Jayhawks). Having said that, there aren't any tunes here that don't stand out after repeated listens.
Lucinda Williams has always put raw emotion into her music, but it has never sounded as affecting or genuine as it does here. Curl up on your sofa with a bottle of wine and this album, and watch the winter evenings go by.