Rating: * * * *
Her mother's death and family issues meant Lucinda Williams' previous album, West, was a glum affair in places and some found it hard going. That shouldn't be a problem here.
The opener Real Love burns with a gutsy rock attack and the closer is a cover of AC/DC's It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock'n'Roll) which she delivers in her distinctive acerbic, world-weary manner.
Between times Little Rock Star is an increasingly abrasive piece addressed to a too-young starlet (Britney? Amy?) being destroyed by the desire for fame - yet Williams tempers her cynicism with genuine sympathy. Elsewhere she offers low blues (Tears of Joy), the rollicking and blatantly sexual Honey Bee, considers mortality on the earthy Heaven Blues, and the nine-minute Rarity (which wouldn't have sounded out of place on the previous album) brings in brass for the first time. Plan to Marry is a moving attempt at optimism in these troubled times.
Guests include Matthew Sweet and Susannah Hoffs, Elvis Costello on the somewhat cliched, country track Jailhouse Tears, and octogenarian Charlie Louvin (of the Louvin Brothers).
The band brings brittle and sometimes brutal support, but that remarkable voice remains centre-stage and her sheer pleasure in music (whether it be alt.country, blues, rock'n'roll or whatever) and sensuality is a delight.
At 55, Williams is still on top of her game and again engaging with life, even the dark parts.