Saturday, November 21, 2020

CD Odyssey Disc 1425: Lucinda Williams

Did I hear someone say “weekend”? Well, here we are. A less pleasant weekend, given the whole partial pandemic lockdown thing, but a weekend none the less.

Disc 1425 is…. Good Souls Better Angels

Artist: Lucinda Williams

Year of Release: 2020

What’s up with the Cover? Lucinda striking her best “alas, my life is full of woe” pose. Does anyone ever actually put their hand to their head like this when thinking sad and overwhelming thoughts?

How I Came To Know It: I have loved Lucinda Williams for years, so this was just me buying her latest release and hoping for the best.

How It Stacks Up: I have 13 Lucinda Williams albums. “Good Souls Better Angels” is a worthy entry into her impressive catalogue. I put it at #7.

Ratings: 4 stars

“Good Souls Better Angels” is pure grit, and the hardest hitting Lucinda Williams album in years.

Williams has always embraced the blues, but on her latest release she delves deep into those structures, adding in a whole lot of reverb and rock snarl. Think late Tom Waits crossed with early ZZ Top, and a bunch of Muddy Waters besides.

There are still some examples of that old folk-rock sound Williams is so good at. “Shadows & Doubts” is a strong example of this, and “When the Way Gets Dark” is another solid folksy track. Fans who come looking for this, won’t be disappointed.

That said, large parts of this record get out the electric guitar out and growl at you. There is feedback and distortion and crunchy riffs, all of which perfectly serve the songs. Both Williams and Stuart Mathis get guitar playing credit, and while I can’t tell who does what, the playing is as powerfully emotive as Lucinda’s vocals, which is saying something. The blues riff on “Bone of Contention” gets right down into your backbone, and then a second guitar wanders into the song with atmospheric purpose over top of that.

Bone of Contention” could have been the name of the album, with Williams exploring a lot of dark topics, calling more than a few people out in the process. The best of these is “Wakin’ Up” the story of a woman in an abusive relationship taking her power back, and letting that bastard know just how thoroughly a bastard he is in the process. She spits out visceral images that place you at the scene and make you wish you weren’t:

“He threw a punch
Somehow I missed it
I should’ve split
Thought I could fix it
He pulled the kitchen
Chair out from under me
He pulled my hair
And then he pissed on me
Next thing I swear
He wants to kiss on me
Yeah, after all this
He wants to kiss on me.”


Williams also does some solid exploration of self-doubt and depression. “Big Black Train” is as good a song on the topic as you’ll hear. Compared to some of the other tracks, the song is stripped down and bare, but Williams compelling vocals more than fill the space. Her voice is a desperate plea for relief, as she feels dark thoughts starting to close in on her, reminding her of the terrible places those thoughts have taken her before. The expansion of the “black dog” metaphor to a train is a reminder that when depression gets this bad it doesn’t lope along beside you; it sweeps you up and carries you away.

If I had a quibble, it would be with the title track, which closes out the record. At seven and a half minutes is about three minutes longer than it needs to be. It is one of the albums more uplifting tracks, so maybe Lucinda is trying to balance all that blackness that came before.

If you’re looking for the relaxed sounds of “Essence” or “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” you won’t find much of it here. With “Good Souls Better Angels” Lucinda Williams has gone back to her roots, then updated it with a whole lot of mosh-worthy crunch.

Best tracks: Bad News Blues, Man Without a Soul, Big Black Train, Wakin’ Up, Shadows & Doubts, Bone of Contention, Down Past the Bottom

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