Lost Highway – 2001 – 59 minutes

Lucinda Williams is an anomaly in this world of teenie-boppers – a musician who is only just hitting her stride at the age of 48. Essence is the sixth album in a short catalogue that spans five labels and 22 years.

An artist who has refused to bow to record label ideas of what she should do, her uncompromising vision was justified with 1998's critically acclaimed 'Car Wheels on a Gravel Road'. Winning Williams a Grammy for best contemporary folk album, 'Car Wheels' was a superb collection of songs about loss and desire, including the frankly erotic 'Right in time' and aching 'Metal Firecracker'. Following this was never going to be easy but Williams has managed that and more.

Opening with the poignant 'Lonely Girls', each subsequent song layers on the heartache as Williams manages to pour more emotion and feeling into her voice than anyone has a right to reveal. On the gentle and poetic 'Blue', the catch in her voice is almost too much to take but the mood lightens slightly with 'Out of Touch' - about the wistful awkwardness of meeting an ex-boyfriend; "Our paths may cross again in some crowded bar/We feel a little lost 'cause we've drifted away so far".

Despite a temporary loss of momentum on 'Are You Down', Williams is at her sinuous, seductive best on the title track where she paints a picture of a woman ravaged by desire. "Baby, sweet baby, kiss me hard/Make me wonder who's in charge" she sings in desperation. Via a detour to the spiritual rawk of 'Get Right With God' and the lyrical descriptions of a long-ago home ('Bus to Baton Rouge'), Williams makes it to the end with the biblical imagery of 'Broken Butterflies'.

Don't underestimate Lucinda Williams – with an enviable ability to beget unsettling and powerful songs, she's evidently only coming into the most fertile stage of her career. Long may it last.

Caroline Hennessy

Tracklisting: Lonely Girls - Steal Your Love - I Envy The Wind - Blue - Out Of Touch - Are You Down - Essence - Reason To Cry - Get Right With God - Bus To Baton Rouge - Broken Butterflies