It’s not often that an artist opts to re-record a seminal album, much less one on which he or she first staked their reputation. So it might have been helpful had Lucinda Williams explained the reasons for revisiting her fourth album Sweet Old World, a set of songs that’s widely considered one of her crowning achievements.
It’s up to the listener then to determine the difference. However, the general theory seems to be that Williams wanted to strip down the original arrangements, which many observers decried as too fastidious the first time around. The instrumentation is decidedly sparser this time around, with Williams tackling the material with a grit and growl that’s more in keeping with the album’s actual intent. The results are especially obvious on both the title track and “Something About What Happens When We Talk,” each of which reveal much more of an emotional edge. On the other hand, there are also differences in the delivery that suggest an uptick in energy. Given its ringing refrain, opening track “Six Blocks Away” and the resolute “Prove My Love” provide the most obvious examples.
Still, casual fans may find themselves leaning in to discern any actual changes this second time around, needing adequate time and concentration to appreciate every nuance. For others, it’s opportunity to fill out their collection with something that could be considered of consequence. Indeed, four new bonus tracks offer added value, and that in itself is an instant allure.
Whether this redo negates the original Sweet Old World is strictly a matter of opinion, all the more reason for careful consideration. Still, if nothing else, Williams is an artist who’s always been unafraid to wear her sentiments on her sleeve, and that makes this weary remake reason an interesting addition to her catalog. This Sweet Old World is tattered but true.