Street Sounds: Lucinda Williams is the Queen of Heartache

Singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams paints a drifting impressionistic picture of dark Americana on The Ghosts of Highway 20.

On her 12th album, The Ghosts of Highway 20, singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams paints a drifting impressionistic picture of dark Americana.

It’s an emotionally raw collection of music based on her memories of life and travels along Highway 20 in the American southeast.

The long playing album sounds like aural snapshots of the back road. The music is down tempo and at times bleak, but often the welcome lights of the roadhouse beckon.

Williams sounds like she doesn’t care, has seen a lot and has stories to tell.

Dust has a loose arrangement that allows Williams to drift through with that late night voice of hers. She’s going for an abstract form of songwriting, making a hybrid of folk, blues and old country that is driven by ambiance.

She’s assisted in her vibey vision by co-producer/guitarist Greg Leisz and journeyman guitarist Bill Frisell.  These two create a deep twang and expressive shimmer that converses with Williams, adding another voice to her music. It’s a mysterious sound that illuminates the record with a tremulous character that gets bluesy and dark.

The album settles into the flow of the road on Place in the Heart, a dreamy track that places Williams vocal like a disembodied voice, swooning from an old Victrola. She induces shivers on this sepia toned love song that is rooted in no particular era.

Williams and band capture a lingering feeling of movement that’s gloomy at times (Death Comes), but mysterious always.  The pacing is hypnotic with the steadiness of a thematic album of spooky travelogues (the title track), dark folk songs, and deep ballads.

The Ghosts of Highway 20 is a recording that is committed to atmosphere and haunting tracks that drift by. Williams proves herself yet again to be a writer of beautifully expressive songs and a raw Queen of Heartache.

Dean Gordon-Smith reviews the latest music releases for The Morning Star every Friday.