With a rootsy sound that is equal parts country, folk, rock and blues, singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams is the female answer to Bob Dylan. In her case, though, this standard is a double-edged sword. On her follow-up to 200l's critically acclaimed Essence, Williams writes unusually thoughtful and literate (if sour-spirited) songs about love and loss. But like Dylan, Williams's singing is marred by nasality, mushy diction and a tooth-rattling vibrato. Still, she has an artful way with words on such tracks as the atmospheric "Ventura": "I wanna watch the ocean bend the edges of the sun." Sometimes, though, she is too clever for her own good, offering up such pretentiously obscure lines as "How would broken find the bones" on the dirgelike title tune. And although she is 50, Williams is not above hip-hop posturing, affecting urban slang on "Righteously" when she sings "Why you wanna dis me?" and even rapping most of the grim "American Dream." Lil' Kim she is not.
BOTTOM LINE: A World with the write and wrong stuff