Lucinda Williams

West (Lost Highway)

The worst record of Lucinda Williams' career begins beautifully: Watery guitars, throbbing bass, distant trumpet, a melody as good as "Amazing Grace" and harmony singers bring the chant, "Are you all right?" to life. For one song, the session hotshots (Bill Frisell, Jim Keltner and Rob Burger) and studio geniuses (Hal Willner and Williams' fiancé, Tom Overby) of her new LA home suit her. For just one other song, "Everything Has Changed," she makes an ocean of experience as real and in-the-blood as her hometown of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

And then the avant-jazz-rock mid-tempo seas slosh, lyrical conceits dilute, and her voice pleads for Smith Brothers. If every other critic is correct that West is an "adventurous" departure — turntablism, check; synth programming, check — that only means Williams has advanced to about 1989. But Alice in Chains would have seen through the boilerplate of "Unsuffer Me," and Steve Vai would have laughed at the wankology of "Come On." When Williams isn't working very hard to distance herself from herself, she just repeats herself — crypto-Pentecostal sex appeals, check; postcard place-name dropping, check — because this time, she has little to say and little voice left to cover her tracks.