Lucinda Williams, “The Ghosts of Highway 20”

Lucinda_Williams-2016-The_Ghosts of Highway 20_cover_hi-resLucinda Williams
The Ghosts of Highway 20
HIGHWAY 20
8/10

The road has long served as a symbol in American roots music, and few have sung about it as distinctly as Lucinda Williams. From her early Folkways albums to classics like 1998’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Williams has sung about faraway places and the twisted paths people take to get to them. On her twelfth LP, The Ghosts of Highway 20, the road stretching from Texas to Georgia serves as a through line, connecting the fourteen songs.

Produced by Williams, Tom Overby, and pedal-steel man Greg Leisz, Ghosts is a spooky, misty record with guitarists Bill Frisell and Val McCallum’s palettes restricted mostly to an ashy gray under Williams’ smoldering voice. The songs sound spectral, like “Death Came,” “Louisiana Story,” and the bruised “If My Love Could Kill,” but it’s not all doom. On the gently swaying “Can’t Close the Door on Love,” Williams’ words pulse with warmth, and on the nearly thirteen-minute “Faith & Grace”—which shares its title and its sanctified feel with The Staple Singers’ first recording—her prayerful drone feels as revelatory as Van Morrison’s “Listen to the Lion” or The Rolling Stones’ gospel collage “I Just Want to See His Face.” Williams’ voice is worn and gruff, and when she commands “Get right with God,” it’s electric. For Williams, these ghosts—holy and unholy alike—haunt soulfully.

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