Exclaim! - - WOOD, WIRES & WHISKEY -

The Ghosts of High­way 20

If her un­der­rated 2014 dou­ble record Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone was a right­eous coun­try soul party, in­fused with a ton of spirit, per­se­ver­ance and cel­e­bra­tion, then Ghosts of High­way 20, Lucinda Wil­liams’ 12th al­bum and se­cond on her own la­bel, is its slow, bluesy, world­weary wake af­ter the death of her father, writer Miller Wil­liams, last year. Al­most 90 min­utes long, Ghosts has roots in the ses­sions that pro­duced DWTSMTB, and the two records feel re­lated, both in tim­bre (Greg Leisz is back as co-pro­ducer and gui­tarist) and in sub­ject mat­ter. But while Spirit showed Wil­liams rock­ing out, the power of High­way 20 stems from its bleak sad­ness; the songs are ex­pan­sive, of­ten like in­can­ta­tions, recorded with­out over­dubs and fea­tur­ing im­pres­sion­is­tic gui­tar in­ter­play be­tween Leisz and Bill Frisell. Lyri­cally, the em­pha­sis seems to be on ghosts, but High­way 20 is also im­por­tant, with some of the songs look­ing back at Wil­liams’ early life grow­ing up near it. The ti­tle track is a bit like 1998’s “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” but much closer to the spirit world, less lively, way more weary, much later in the day. Nine-minute-long “Louisiana” is a deep or­ange whis­pered snap­shot from child­hood, filled with emo­tional hon­esty. Then there are love songs, at which Wil­liams still ex­cels: the lul­laby-like “Place in My Heart,” which re­calls “Like a Rose,” though stur­dier, lack­ing the floor­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the ear­lier one, and “Can’t Close the Door on Love.” Some of the al­bum’s most in­ter­est­ing mo­ments are its cov­ers: Wil­liams bor­rows words from Woody Guthrie to de­liver the pro­found eroti­cism of “House of Earth” and pro­vides an ap­pro­pri­ately sad, fa­tal home for Spring­steen’s “Fac­tory.” Wil­liams closes with “Faith and Grace,” a 13-minute-long ex­plo­ration set apart from the rest. Wil­liams, Frisell and bassist David Sut­ton are joined on it by Carl­ton “Santa” Davis (Peter Tosh) on drums and Ras Michael on hand drums and backup vo­cals. Some­thing hap­pens at the end of the song, af­ter Wil­liams has re­peated “get right with God” and “a lit­tle more faith and grace” so many times that the mu­sic opens up into great en­velop­ing gui­tar dis­tor­tion and drums, evok­ing a big round sea of light. (High­way 20, lucin­dawil­ SARAH GREENE The Bar­rel Boys Jenny Berkel Jenn Bojm The Good Lovelies Ben Her­mann Shuyler Jansen Kacy & Clay­ton Cluny Macpher­son Cass McCombs The Mekons and Rob­bie Fulks Matt Monoogian Aoife O’Dono­van David Picco Prom­ise and the Mon­ster Punch Brothers Ariel Shar­ratt & Mathias Kom Matthew Lo­gan Vasquez Bran­don Wolfe Scott Luther Wright & the Wrongs

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