Album of the Week: Lucinda Williams - The Ghosts of Highway 20
The Ghosts of Highway 20
Highway 20 Records
Americana, folk rock,
In keeping with the spirit of the times, Lucinda Williams’s new double-album of crafted, mostly saturnine Americana is weighed down with woe.
Death, decay and the afterlife, with occasional softenings of crusted tenderness, roam freely through these 14 tracks as the Louisiana-born singer-songwriter explores grief and the meaning of love.
However, there is nothing morbid about Williams’s artful journey through the maze of personal travails. These are the lot of a fearless 63-year-old player of the heart, one with a strong streak of vulnerability and a resolute determination to be honest in everything she does.
Williams has said that some of the tracks were recorded at the same sessions as her excellent Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone double album, this new collection establishes its own immersive identity from the first track. Dust, like Spirit, is a poem by her late father, celebrated poet Miller Williams, which she has set to a ringing, haunting melody.
The opening lines could be about Miller’s daughter: “There is a sadness so deep/the sun seems black . . . ”
Equally, the beautifully sombre Death Came, Doors of Heaven and elegiac closer Faith and Grace offer a strong argument that the whole album is a daughter’s farewell to a father, with all the attendant tangled emotions. His death last January also prompts reminiscence. Louisiana and the title track both trace the geography of the past in graceful, hypnotic narratives, in which events, people and places co-mingle. In the bruised I Know All About It, there is a strong sense of a woman who has seen enough: “I know all about the pain and all that jazz”, Williams sings dismissively.
Throughout, her voice is a shamanistic, bluesy southern drawl that infuses the lyrics with a sense of real pain and loss – or a soothing balm, as on Can’t Close the Door on Love and the pitch- perfect Place in My Heart.
Guitarists Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz help set the mood. Still, it is Williams’s regular backing band, Buick6 – drummer Butch Norton, bassist David Sutton and particularly guitarist Stuart Mathis – who, as at her recent wonderful Dublin concert, render music that is richly textured, laced with guitar flourishes and tonal shades. Remarkable.