Lucinda Williams | Good Souls Better Angels | (Highway 20/Thirty Tigers)
4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Is Lucinda Williams psychic?
The priestess of roots Americana recorded these songs before the advent of the coronavirus, yet she seems to have anticipated something was very wrong in the lyrics to tracks like “Bad News Blues.” Williams rages “Bad news hangin’ in the air/Bad news layin’ on the ground/Bad news walkin’ up the stairs/Bad news all around” with what reverberates as a female version of Tom Waits’ half spoken/half growled grizzled, whisky soaked voice. Her road band chugs and lurches behind her with a thumping, barking beat sounding like its emerging from some mosquito infested swamp. The mixture is explosive.
Welcome to the deceptively titled Good Souls Better Angels.
These twelve performances were recorded live in the studio, and they sound it. They unspool over 60 raging minutes as Williams howls, moans, groans and hollers words reflecting the gloomiest aspects of current events;even some that hadn’t occurred when she and co-writer/husband/co-producer Tom Overby detailed the darkness of ominous times reflected here.
This is Williams’ fifteenth release since her 1979 debut and arguably her most intense, which is saying a lot. She has never shied away from combining gripping, often poetic images with raw, alternately sensitive and muscular penetrating rocking. But the blend of current ills recounted on selections such as “Man Without a Soul” (no names are mentioned but when she snarls “You are a man without truth/A man of greed, a man of hate/A man of envy and doubt/You’re a man without a soul” leave little doubt as to who she is talking about). On “Wakin’ Up” Williams spits out fuming words recounting spousal abuse as portentous primitive drums pound behind her and guitarist Stuart Mathis rips off a twisted, distorted solo that channels Neil Young at his most extreme.
This is not just Williams’ most visceral studio set but her bluesiest too. Her band sounds nearly demonic on “Down Past the Bottom” and “Pray the Devil,” both of which name-check Lucifer as the music follows suit. On “Big Rotator” she again references you-know-who skewering nameless people with “Liars are venerated, losers congratulated/Cheaters celebrated, thieves compensated/Vultures satiated, murderers exonerated/Guilty vindicated, innocent incarcerated” as guitarist Mathis works his wah-wah pedal with hellish intent.
By the end of the hour, you’ll be wiped out. This is a devastatingly in your face, take no prisoners presentation from Williams and her band that will leave most serious listeners shattered and perhaps shaking. Few albums connect with this much pure emotional fury, let alone those from artists well into their 60s.
Take a deep breath, strap in then push play on what is undoubtedly one of the most searing, potent and passionate albums you’ll hear this year.