After the critical acclaim that was lauded upon Car Wheels on a Gravel Road almost a decade ago, Lucinda Williams appeared to have finally achieved her potential. But meandering, morose releases such as Essence (2001) and World Without Tears (2003) failed to deliver the kind of pop smarts and old-school country passion of her earlier work. West is both a return to Williams roots and a series of fascinating detours down musical avenues with little connection to her past. Her voice has never sounded better than on the atmospheric, nearly ambient folk of Are You Alright? and few female performers write about lust and regret with the edge Williams gives to the boisterous, nearly atonal rock of Unsuffer Me and Come On. Featuring guitarist Bill Frisell and harmonies from Gary Louris (Jayhawks), West is a captivating take on Americana, a clear and concise embrace of modern themes that never forgets the emotional truths of the best rural music.