Lucinda Williams –The Ghosts of Highway 20 (Highway 20/Thirty Tigers)
When we last checked in with Lucinda Williams two years ago, she’d started her own imprint and kicked it off with the 2-CD set Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. This wellspring of creativity not only found her with an over-abundance of material for those sessions, but inspired her to bang out yet another 2-CD set. Remarkably enough, the sexagenarian singer-songwriter avoided including any filler and instead came up with 14 songs that can all stand on their own merit. And while the last project included a mix of backup musicians, Williams brought back guitarists Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz. Both musicians set the tone for this record with the kind of minimalist accompaniment that gives these songs a spooky ambiance to the cast of characters that pop up throughout.
Williams’ world-weary croon goes from being caressed by a sleepy jazz arrangement to tell the tale of a junkie in “I Know All About It” to being nudged along by some pointed slide guitar accompaniment as she take on the voice of a dying person ready to move on in the bluesy “Doors of Heaven.” And like she did last time out, Williams set another poem written by her late, literature professor father Miller to music and came away with “Dust,” a subtle nod to grieving that beautifully points out, “There’s a sadness so deep/The sun seems black/And you don’t have to try/To keep the tears back.” Elsewhere, she takes unreleased lyrics by Woody Guthrie given to her by his daughter Nora that lay out the exchange between a working girl and customer that is the muted “House of Earth.”
And while her haunting reading of Bruce Springsteen’s “Factory” may not gibe with the southern characters that inhabit the title cut or “Louisiana Story,” it’s the nods to the lives of working-class families sprinkled throughout these songs that provide the common chord regardless of which side of the Mason-Dixon Line these stories take place. (To read about some of Williams’ favorite covers, click here.) The Ghosts of Highway 20 may not initially grab you, but repeated play promises to make for an enriching payoff each time out.
Lucinda Williams will be appearing on March 13 & 14, 16-18 at City Winery, 155 Varick St., NYC. For more information call 212-608-0555 or visit www.citywinery.com.