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A Compassionate Call to Come Back

Lucinda Williams' newest album was inspired by the death of her mother and a bitter breakup.
Lucinda Williams' newest album was inspired by the death of her mother and a bitter breakup.

Much of the material on Lucinda Williams' recent album West was inspired by the death of her mother, as well as a bitter breakup. The album's heartsick opening song, "Are You Alright?" functions as either a post-breakup lament or an elegiac tribute to a lost loved one, or possibly a combination of the two.

Sung with equal parts compassion and sorrow, her words — "Are you all right? / I haven't seen you in a real long time / Are you all right? / Could you give me some kind of sign? — radiate alienation and uncertainty. Williams repeats the titular question 21 times, and the hypnotic repetition (not to mention her magnificent voice) helps the song burrow its way into the listener's psyche. This isn't one of Williams' upbeat alt-country sparklers. Musically, the song meanders along with a lazy shuffle: Atmospheric and anguished, it reflects the pain of the singer's loss. But all along, there's a glimmer of hope just below the surface of Williams' resignation.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Bruce Warren is assistant general manager for programming of WXPN in Philadelphia. Besides serving as executive producer of World Café, Warren also contributes to Paste magazine and writes for two blogs: Some Velvet Blog and WXPN's All About The Music Blog.