Lucinda Williams, like Bob Dylan, is an acquired taste. She reminds me a lot of Dylan, especially in recent years, as her work has moved more towards country blues and even more towards “I don’t give a damn.” She’s not after radio play or big sales — she makes the music she’s moved to make. And her most loyal fans are moved right along with her.
The penultimate song on Lucinda Williams’ The Ghosts of Highway 20 makes it clear that while this album is about life in those small southern towns, it is just as much a reaction to the passing of her father.
Perhaps those two themes are forever intertwined, as Williams’ childhood memories are no doubt populated largely by that man and those places. As the album starts winding to a close, the most prominent ghost of all proves to be that of Miller Williams.
Track five of Disc Two promises to shift the tone a little bit from the more upbeat (comparatively) songs we’ve heard so far this week. ‘If My Love Could Kill’ is about her father’s death after a battle with Alzheimer’s.
I understand the criticism of those who find the songs too slow, or Williams’ vocals too slurred, but I don’t share it. Williams’ voice is like Bob Dylan’s in that it’s not technically great but it’s exactly the right instrument for her songs.
‘Factory’ is a song from Springsteen’s 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town, and its story of a man who toils away at a factory fits in nicely with the rustic sadness of the rest of this album. Williams recorded the track as a tribute to her father-in-law, who held a job a lot like the one described in the song.
Disc Two, Song Two. After the epic title track, Lucinda offers up a little country blues ditty about a busted love affair. It seems Disc Two is definitely more upbeat than Disc One (musically, anyway… I don’t think we’re getting any lyrically upbeat songs on this album!).
This is the most fun song on the record so far, and another fine showcase of the guitar work by Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz.
Highway 20 is a stretch of road that touches on all of these sad southern stories, all of this grace and pain, and Williams can look back and vividly recollect every mile. Williams counts Flannery O’Connor as an influence, and that southern gothic quality is all over this album.