The Ghosts Of Highway 20

Lucinda Williams

The Ghosts Of Highway 20
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The Ghosts Of Highway 20

Lucinda Williams

Three-time Grammy Award winner Lucinda Williams returns with The Ghosts of Highway 20 (Highway 20/Thirty Tigers). After 11 highly acclaimed studio albums, Williams is in the most prolific period of her nearly four-decade career, as she continues to challenge herself creatively. The Ghosts of Highway 20 finds Williams exploring new territory personally, sonically and vocally like never before.


The Ghosts of Highway 20 is unlike any other Lucinda Williams album prior. There is a common thread running through the songs, uniting them under one collective theme as the haunting title track illustrates. 12 of the 14 songs were inspired by various periods and experiences throughout Williams' life that all tie into Highway 20 (aka Interstate 20), which runs in part from Georgia to Texas, the focal region of the album. Whether it is cities she has resided in (Atlanta, GA, Macon, GA), has family ties to (Shreveport, LA, Monroe, LA) or previously written about (Jackson, LA, Vicksburg, MS), Williams' personal experiences and connections to these areas inform the narratives. However, this is not an album about geographic locations, but songs and stories inspired by people, place and time.

The Ghosts of Highway 20 features some of the most expansive and experimental arrangementsWilliams has ever recorded, as heard on the epic “Dust”, the chilling “If My Love Could Kill” and “House of Earth”, a lost Woody Guthrie song Williams wrote the music to. Revered guitarists Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz provide incredible sonic textures and ethereal tones that enhance Williams' brilliant writing and wise and weathered vocals. Williams expands her own vocal timbre with sultry jazz-styled phrasing on “I Know All About It” and the extensive improvisational track “Faith & Grace”. Williams puts her signature on a new interpretation of Bruce Springsteen’s “Factory”, and melts into the absolutely stunning “Louisiana Story” and “Place In My Heart”.

The Ghosts of Highway 20was co-produced by Williams, Leisz and Tom Overby and recorded withWilliams' ace rhythm section of Butch Norton (drums) and David Sutton (bass). Guitarist Val McCallum guests on two tracks.

At 62, Lucinda Williams' songs are as genuine and soulful as when she began writing. She defines the word artist by never compromising her music and staying true to her muse. On The Ghosts of Highway 20, Williams shows that her creative peak still lies ahead.

 

Review

The Ghosts of Highway 20 traverses the northern part of Williams’ home state of Louisiana and is a route she knows only too well from constantly travelling back and forth to gigs when she was getting her career up and running all those years ago. The characters that inhabit this world provide most of the inspiration for her 11 new songs. There are also two covers, Springsteen’s ‘Factory’ and a recreation of a forgotten Woody Guthrie tune, ‘House of Earth’.

It was always going to be tough following up on her epic work Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. With The Ghosts of Highway 20, Williams has decided to do something a little different, and she has pulled it off. The familiar themes of love, friends in trouble, bad relationships and death are all here. There are also detailed childhood recollections of growing up in the Deep South. The mood here is more downbeat than usual, many of the songs are half-spoken, half-sung. However, none of this is a problem and Williams’ band is easily up to the challenge of providing amazingly exciting, emotional and fresh musical settings. Main guitarist and pedal steel player Greg Leisz was on the 1998 breakthrough album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road and Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. Having also been co-producer on several recent albums, he rises to the challenge brilliantly here and brings his friend Bill Frisell along for part of the ride. There is exquisite guitar interplay on the rockier numbers and atmospheric settings when the mood calls for it.


Paul Barr is a Music Specialist at Readings Carlton.

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