The Wise Blood of Lucinda Williams

The Americana songstress wrestles with her Southern legacy and familial past on "The Ghosts Of Highway 20."

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A year later Williams encountered Blind Pearly Brown, a street singer who strolled the streets of downtown Macon with his black suspenders, beat-up acoustic guitar and a sign that read, “I am a blind preacher. Please help me, thank you.” He often sang hymns from his mentor, the legendary bluesman Blind Willie Johnson, and 6-year-old Lucinda was entranced. In a sense, her career has been an attempt to combine the power of O’Connor’s literary fiction with the power of Johnson’s gospel blues, as passed on through their acolytes Miller Williams and Blind Pearly Brown.

To do that, she has had to marry the violent passions and controlled economy of O’Connor’s language to the matching qualities of Johnson’s music. Williams has often managed that alchemy, but on Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone and The Ghosts Of Highway 20, she does it more consistently than she has since the brilliant 1988-98 trilogy of Lucinda Williams, Sweet Old World and Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. Those three albums established her reputation after her first two records in 1978 and 1980 had been more or less ignored.

She recaptures that old mojo by allowing the songs’ themes to rise naturally from the imagery and storytelling rather than drawing the conclusions for the listener. She does it by collaborating with two master guitarists, Frisell and Leisz, who also appear on jazz master Charles Lloyd’s new album. And she does it by remembering her father’s lessons.

“One of my favorite sounds in the world was hearing my dad on the typewriter,” Lucinda recalls. “He was very into the craft of writing,... Sign In to Keep Reading

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