Lucinda Williams

The Ghosts of Highway 20

(Thirty Tigers)

Teaming up for the production with Greg Leisz and Tom Overby, our singer is not taking it easy. Any onset of mellowness seems a few decades in the distance yet, whether Williams intends to come across this way or not. What Beth Hart is doing on the blues-soul field, Lucinda seems to be mining in more countrified areas.

It’s two-disc set, kicking off the first one with Dust and its jutting jaw intro and soft rhythm, the guitar players on separate channels – Leisz and Bill Frisell on the other. These two 3-D the sound evoking Storyville, a juicy weave drifting in and out of the tune. It would be a poor singer who wouldn’t relish floating over this sound. David Sutton is on bass and vocals and Butch Norton takes care of drumming. I suppose the phrase for this relaxed intensity. Frisell certainly brings a touch of comet-trail axe magic to the party. Cue frowns from the GO Opry types!

‘House of Earth’ is utterly world-weary, the backing airy and melancholy; ‘I Know All About It’ ..what a phrase! There’s an old joke in England – ‘I married Mrs Right. Didn’t know her first name was Always..’ Here Williams employs Tom Waits phrasing and shows off the attractive husky tones among her arsenal. The guitars take a slow waltz as the tale unfolds. Grubbily exquisite.

‘Place In My Heart’ pings its harmonics-strewn path into earshot and is a sandpapered lullaby of a song ; Death Came – there’s one for the party playlist eh? Another tentative under-the-stars guitar intro as this slow and stark tale is told. A tad too down-in–the dumps for this listener, I concede…

‘Doors of Heaven’ adopts a chunkier tempo and you almost expect the rasp of Taj Mahal to start…it’s a gospel blues, brilliantly handled with minimal slide. A set opener perhaps? ‘Louisiana Story’ has a stately pace and a vocal just breathed out. Simon Cowell sure wouldn’t get this! Lucinda, you are supposed to bellow and stretch every note every which way to convey ‘feeling’! What IS this ‘subtlety’ thing?

On to the second disc of the pairing and the title track Ghosts of Highway 20 tells us that we are not abandoning the organic sound on Disc One. The song could be from the pen of John’s that good. Another ache of a performance. The original Fairport Convention would have got a good 20 minutes out of this one..

‘Bitter Memory’, now we all have those, eh? Jaunty acoustic intro, if I didn’t know better I would think Lucinda was singing this one after a 6 hour bar session with George Jones….Factory rides in on amp-tremelo’d guitar which sounds almost like the great Shuggie Otis. Not sure about Williams’ emulation of the writer Springsteen vocal tremolo, though..

If I have a favourite track on this release apart from the stunning ‘Dust’ it must be ‘Can’t Close The Door On Love’. A soft but relentless melody, just-so drumming and a very fine vocal and contrasting-guitar-tones tapestry in support. ‘If My Love Could Kill’ has a syncopated intro and steady beat. I can’t quite grasp the lyrical intent, given the line ‘murderer of songs’ it could be about Kanye West…

‘If There’s A Heaven’ is cotton-candy gospel; final cut ‘Faith & Grace’ has a hypnotic vibe and bassline with a hint of Wolf’s Spoonful. It’s a good closer though they should have let go a little more.

So… could say this set is a little heavy on the sad songs. But that would be like saying Picasso used a little too much blue. These are ego-free musicians who don’t just play songs, they craft them. Lucinda sounds so beaten-up you just want to give her a cuddle…..

Pete Sargeant

Lucinda Williams


Lucinda Williams new studio album ‘Ghosts Of Highway 20’ is out now on Thirty Tigers. In addition, Lucinda Williams will be performing at Cornbury Music Festival 2016 at The Great Tew Park, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom on Saturday 9th July 2016. For tickets visit: 

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