The first thing you notice about Lucinda Williams is her voice: raspy and brittle, yet supported by a husky tone that rubs against you. It is rough and comforting, a thin blanket that somehow manages to insulate you from a cold, heartless environment. Her songs, in contrast to her surroundings, are all about emotions, filled with observations on broken people and wasted lives and tempered by an optimism that makes them something more than sad, mournful ballads.
As a singer-songwriter, Williams crisscrosses genres, from rock to country and folk, to get her point across. Although her latest album, last year's World Without Tears, has a little bit of everything, it doesn't sound scattershot. Throughout, her words convey a singular message of hope in the face of adversity. "Traced your scent through the gloom/'Til I found those purple flowers," she sings on "Fruits of My Labor." "I was spent, I was soon smelling you for hours."