Lucinda Williams - Good Souls Better Angels Music Album Reviews

Drawing as much from punk as roadhouse blues, Lucinda Williams’ loud and unsparing new album is some of the heaviest, most inspiring music of her career.

Good Souls Better Angels rises from the darkest corners of Lucinda Williams’ world: down desert roads, in a barren country, through the windows of homes and churches that don’t offer the sanctuary they promise. These 12 songs are tough and haunted, built on simple blues progressions that twist and pull until they fray. Williams recorded the album in Nashville with her touring band, Buick 6, in concentrated bursts, live in the studio. While her recent records have used their sprawl to navigate a wide array of styles and moods, she now finds a range that pulls her into focus. It is roots music, bursting from the ground, changing form in the light of day.
The album arrives after two moments of retrospection for the outlaw country legend: 2017’s re-recorded version of her 1992 album Sweet Old World and 2018’s anniversary tour behind 1998’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Inspired by the latter experience, Williams enlisted a collaborator from that classic record, Ray Kennedy, to co-produce. He joins Williams and her husband, manager, and songwriting partner Tom Overby for an album that collects some of her saddest music along with some of her heaviest and most inspiring. “Let’s break the rules,” Williams said upon launching her own label in 2014 after decades of being misunderstood and mistreated within the music industry. “We can do what we want to do now.” Good Souls follows through.
From the beginning, Williams seemed to exist between genres: too rock for country, too country for rock. She had an ethos aligned with punk but she could also write catchy anthems that became radio hits for acts like Mary Chapin Carpenter. At 67, Williams now has a voice that can make anything she sings sound like a genre unto itself: It is a raspy plume of exhaust, highlighting the shapes of her words as much as their hard meanings. She spent the first decade of the 2000s hardening her delivery into a bluesy speak-sing and the second decade leaning into more varied, psychedelic settings. On Good Souls, she finds an edgy growl that can sound tender or enraged, enlightened or possessed, all within a single couplet. In the opening track, “You Can’t Rule Me,” she lists the things that cannot be taken from her—her soul, her money, her point of view. As she counts them off, she seems to take spiritual inventory, meditating on the desperate fight for each one.

Over this gnarled, electric music, Williams writes in stark, chantlike verse. “Wakin’ Up” is a harrowing portrait of a woman escaping from—or dissociating during—an abusive relationship. Its visceral tug is carried by a vocal delivery like she’s spitting each word from under her tongue. That song finds a spiritual contrast in the serene, breathtaking “Big Black Train.” It’s a soulful ballad carried by a slow pulse—echoing electric guitars, a lapping rhythm section—as Williams narrates from the throes of depression, her voice alternately breaking and soaring. “I don’t wanna get on board,” she sings as the music shows how easy it might be to disappear.

Williams weaves these intimate scenes through other songs that take political aim. As with all her best love songs and travelogues, she sounds more interested in dissecting the heartbreak of modern life than simply railing against it. The righteous “Man Without a Soul” is a protest song full of patience and nuance that culminates with the deepest cut imaginable from Williams’ pen: “You bring nothing good to this world,” she seethes. Above all else, she judges people by the mark we leave behind, the afterlife we build for ourselves.

Without the cinematic detail or rich scenery that once defined her work, Williams draws on the lessons of her years. On the title track of her last solo album, 2016’s The Ghosts of Highway 20, she gestured toward, “Southern secrets still buried deep/Brooding and restless ’neath the cracked concrete.” In these songs, she pulls us down with her, where we can feel the gravel and see for ourselves. Like “Drunken Angel,” her signature ode to the late folk singer Blaze Foley, the gentle “Shadows & Doubts” addresses a tortured, self-destructive figure who might be beyond help: “So many ways/To crush you,” she sings in the chorus with a bleak sense of inevitability. And yet, nearly every one of these songs searches for a way out, a crack of light. “I’m gonna pray the devil back to hell,” she sings. Her guitar rattles and her voice shakes, and suddenly it sounds like an actual, physical battle.

“It’s on the top of everybody’s minds—it’s all anybody talks about,” Williams wrote earlier this year. “Basically, the world’s falling apart.” In her characteristic no-bullshit manner, she was describing the inspiration for these apocalyptic songs and forecasting the landscape she would release them into. Like all the writers she admires, from Bob Dylan to Flannery O’Connor, Williams will always be drawn to capturing the essence of the times she lives in: “All I can do is write about my feelings and the world’s feelings,” she explained. Suspending and swelling for seven-and-a-half minutes, the dreamlike closing track, “Good Souls,” sounds like her version of a prayer: “Help me stay fearless,” she sings. “Help me stay strong.” By the end, the music fades into a kind of sketch, an atmospheric waltz cycling between just two chords, the band leaning forward and waiting for her signal to close. But she keeps on singing; she’s on nobody’s time but her own.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Lucinda Williams - Good Souls Better Angels Music Album Reviews Lucinda Williams - Good Souls Better Angels Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, May 05, 2020 Rating:

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