Review: Lucinda Williams – Good Souls Better Angels

A new album from Lucinda Williams is always eagerly anticipated, and ‘Good Souls Better Angels’, her first album featuring new material since her 2016 release ‘Ghosts of Highway 20’ does not disappoint. Featuring her regular touring band, and largely recorded live in the studio, musically the album follows in the footsteps of ‘Ghosts..’ and its 2014 predecessor ‘Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone’, with a stripped back and atmospheric sound, however lyrically she brings a spirited and affecting political dimension to her music, reflecting our troubled times, delivered with her trademark sincerity, but also heartfelt anger.

Most striking is standout track ‘Man Without a Soul’, released as a single previewing the album in February, which while not naming Donald Trump clearly has him in its sights. Interviewed by NPR in the USA last week she acknowledged that making Trump the target for her song, which she had revealed in a Facebook post, had brought both criticism in some quarters, with people saying “Shut up and sing. Don’t get involved in politics. That’s not your job.” Williams responded–” Well sorry, I beg to differ. Go back and listen to Woody Guthrie. It is my job as far as I’m concerned.

The song has a brooding feel, with an evident rage, as she sings ‘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‘, but bringing us to an optimistic conclusion when she sings ‘How do you think this story ends/It’s not a matter of how/It’s just a matter of when/Cause it’s coming down, yeah it’s coming down.’

Featuring distorted guitar and with lyrics leaning towards stream of consciousness rather than employing a traditional rhyming scheme it’s a powerful message.

Opening track ‘You Can’t Rule Me’ has a bluesy feel reminiscent of the late Tony Joe White, who featured on several tracks on ‘Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone’, and ‘Bad News Blues’ is in similar territory, reflecting also her early recordings.

Williams returns to the personal in ‘Wakin’ Up’, a song about domestic abuse and a life lived in squalor, its edgy arrangement with scratchy, distorted guitar and tinged with psychedelia perfectly matched to the topic, and ‘Down Past the Bottom’, where Williams’ ire is directed at a failed relationship.

Williams’ writing is strong throughout, and strikes an optimistic note in ‘When the Way Gets Dark’ when she sings ‘When the way gets dark/Will you lose your balance/Will you stumble and fall/Don’t give up/You have a reason/To carry on/Don’t give up/Take my hand/You’re never alone‘.

The album’s closer ‘Good Souls’ offers calm after the storm, with a leisurely pace at over seven minutes length, its gentle almost hymn like feel soothing the listener, and reassuring us that there are indeed good souls, as she sings ‘Keep me with all of those/Who help me find strength/When I’m feeling weak/Keep me with all of those/Who help me stay strong/And guide me along‘.

Track listing

  1. You Can’t Rule Me
  2. Bad News Blues
  3. Man Without a Soul
  4. Big Black Train
  5. Wakin’ Up
  6. Pray the Devil Back to Hell
  7. Shadows & Doubts
  8. When the Way Gets Dark
  9. Bone of Contention
  10. Down Past the Bottom
  11. Big Rotator
  12. Good Souls

Review by David Jarman 

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