wed 27/05/2020

Album: Lucinda Williams - Good Souls Better Angels | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Lucinda Williams - Good Souls Better Angels

Album: Lucinda Williams - Good Souls Better Angels

Sublimating anger through song

Lucinda Williams

Few singers can channel bitterness, anger and pain as well as Lucinda Williams: she moves with ease from a fierce snarl to a sensual drawl, and from a naked show of vulnerability to a rocker’s raunch. As with Tom Waits, with whom she has sometimes been compared, there is something stylised about her vocal style, almost mannered. And yet, born performer and poet that she is, she channels archetypal emotions in a way that never feels forced.

Few singers can channel bitterness, anger and pain as well as Lucinda Williams: she moves with ease from a fierce snarl to a sensual drawl, and from a naked show of vulnerability to a rocker’s raunch. As with Tom Waits, with whom she has sometimes been compared, there is something stylised about her vocal style, almost mannered. And yet, born performer and poet that she is, she channels archetypal emotions in a way that never feels forced.

In her new album, a collection of very intense material, in which the personal and political seamlessly mix, she is joined once again by co-producer Roy Kennedy who produced the Grammy-winning album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998). Although there's sometimes a sameness about her raw explorations of blues, country and rock, she has also very successfully stretched out beyond her comfort zone, through collaborating with the likes of jazz guitarist Bill Frisell and pedal steel player Greg Leisz, not to mention saxophonist Charles Lloyd. The new album is a return to the stripped-down form that she has mostly favoured, with a regular band that includes Butch Norton (drums), Stuart Mathis (guitar) and David Sutton (bass). 

This is an album that bears repeated listening, as the playing and production are of the highest order,with subtle use of all manner of mood-enhancing guitar effects, note-perfect without ever sounding anything other than spontaneous. The songs are as simple yet complex as anything she's ever written.  They range from several (“Bone of Contention” and “Man Without a Soul”) that take bad men to task, with a fury that she wears sublimely well. She is at her most powerful on “Wakin’Up”, a passionate and very explicit account of excessive domestic violence – there has never been a song like it.   “Big Black Train” turns the old stand-by of the gospel train that will save us on its head, and speaks of the most terrible depression: a train “that’s gonna take me through the darkest night”.  Lucinda Williams has been on that train, that’s for sure. All the more touching when on “Good Souls”, at the close of the album, she intones very gently a moving tribute to the friends and angels who have helped dig her out of the pit of despond that she knows and sings about so well.

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