She bristles with rage on the scathing opener, Buttercup, delivers a beautiful but pained open letter to her estranged brother (a sequel to Are You Alright? on her album West) and on Seeing Black she offers up the often incoherent anger and incomprehension we feel when someone close commits suicide. ("Did you run out of places to go and hide?") "Well, there's no 100 per cent happy," she says in her distinctive, languid drawl. "Even if you fall in love and get married, you're not running around deliriously happy all the time.

"I read the paper every day so a lot of things are going to affect me. I guess now I'm writing about a lot of different things, which has really been liberating. It had been and exercise to see if I can do it, but now it is just happening more naturally for me."

And the album - recorded with Don Was who produced her favourite Rolling Stones albums "and I particularly loved the later albums he did with Kris Kristofferson" - lets Williams move from spare, reflective ballads, through the death of young soldier as well as Buttercup, a descendant of Bob Dylan's bitter and personal Positively Fourth Street, which Williams has recently covered.

"Yeah, exactly," she laughs. "It's about the same guy I wrote Jailhouse Tears about [on Little Honey of 2008], so it's the last chapter of that. As I tell people when I play it live, 'this is the only bad boy song on the new album'. I still had a little in my system I had to get out."

Williams acknowledges her songs have always had a cathartic quality, no more so than on Seeing Black, which comes with a slashing guitar part by Elvis Costello.

"What spawned the song was when [Georgia singer-songwriter] Vic Chesnutt took his life in 2009.

"I didn't know him real well but had known him a long time and we were fans of each other's stuff. We'd met and hung out when I was first starting out. I met him in Athens, he was part of our community, our world. One of our own."

Copenhagen deals with an even more personal loss: "Yeah, my ex-manager Frank Callari and I were in Copenhagen when we heard of his death. The song is very literal. I'm proud of that one, lyrically. It was snowing a little and we had the night off. We walked down the street from the hotel and went to a bar. I ended up talking to these people all night, drinking and crying and trying to deal with the suddenness of it."

Yet Williams' songs are not all drawn from her own life: Soldier's Song is an empathetic account of a battlefield death and what goes through the young man's mind, ("Baby's going to have to make a brand new start").

"As a writer I feel I have to understand what that person is feeling in order to be able to write about it. There were two songs where I learned about being empathetic. One was Drunken Angel and the other was Lake Charles [both on Car Wheels].

"When I was writing those songs I didn't want to be like I was pointing the finger or scolding, even though that's how I was feeling .

"I've wondered how would it feel to be a soldier, because not all of them over there are these big gung-ho guys, a lot are just kids who've ended up over there. I'm angry but it's pointless to point the finger at soldiers."

Williams says her greater understanding of the plight of soldiers, who are victims as much as anyone, came from her friendship with Bobby Muller, the wheelchair-bound former platoon leader who is head of the Vietnam Veterans' Association and an anti-war activist. And in gentle songs like Born to Be Loved, Sweet Love and the title track on Blessed, she reaches out to those hurting in America.

"People are angry and concerned. People are losing patience and are confused and looking for an answer.

"There's all the rhetoric but there's the sense here that nothing is changing and nothing seems to work."

LOWDOWN

Who:
Lucinda Williams
What: New album Blessed released on Monday.
Essential albums: West (2007), Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998), Sweet Old World (1992), Lucinda Williams (1988).

-TimeOut