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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Lucille died in 2004, and Miller died on January 1, 2015, the same date, Lucinda points out, that Hank Williams died 62 years earlier. “I’m still grieving,” she adds. “Maybe it never stops.” She started writing “Death Came” right after her mother’s death, but she couldn’t wrestle it into final shape until last year.

Inspired, she says, by Ralph Stanley’s “Oh Death” and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Death Came A-Creepin’” (aka “Soon One Morning”), it was an effort to come to terms with mortality by confronting it directly. “I tasted the fruit from the tree of knowledge,” she sings, but she was “not satisfied, until I carved my name in the bark.” The companion piece is “Doors To Heaven,” written right after Miller died.

“That’s also a hard one to get through,” she admits; “I broke down and cried when we tried to record it. It just came to me in that traditional form, like an old hymn. It’s not saying there is a heaven; it’s wondering if there is a heaven. Even people who go, ‘I’m an atheist,’ must question if there’s something else out there.’ Struggling with my dad being gone, I wondered about that myself. The sense of him being gone is still so raw. It’s something that a lot of people have dealt with, losing a loved one, that eternal question.”

The final third of “Doors To Heaven” is an instrumental duet between Frisell and Leisz that takes Lucinda’s unanswerable questions into territory where words can’t go. After she has repeatedly sung, “Open up the doors of heaven, let me in,” Frisell’s chiming high notes suggest what might lie beyond... Sign In to Keep Reading

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