Lucinda Williams has made one angry, dark, dirty, vengeful, riffed up mother of all records.
It is a long way from the Lucinda Williams that I came across in a second hand record shop in Cork in the summer of 1994. Oh Sweet Old World rocked in places but it was a gentle sweeter rock. Emmylou Harris would cover the title track of that very record and Mary Chapin Carpenter had had a hit with Passionate Kisses from her previous eponymous record.
Good Souls Better Angels is more Rolling Stones than Chapin Carpenter. It might be Williams’ Exile On Main Street but actually it is heavier than that.
The heaviness of the guitar riffing is not here for its own sake. The sound evokes the menace and the gloom of the subject matter. This is a collection of songs looking around at the 2020 world that it dropped into and declaring this is a very skewed vision of how things should be. Williams' unique Texan drawl is made for such raging prophesying!
For Williams America has lost its soul and she is not behind the door pointing the finger at the reason for it. Man Without A Soul is a vicious ode to the President.
Williams comes across as a heroic figure in the darkness all around. She is militantly defiant, standing against the tide. No one is going to rule or or steal her values and she is not getting on the Big Black Train to the abyss. On another song, she is keen to Pray the Devil Back to Hell; a personal favourite in line and attitude, as you can imagine!
Not everything is gloom though. In fact hope and light are constant in the evil dark despair. When The Ways Get Dark is an anthem of fortitude for Coronavirus Times even though Williams had no idea such times were coming so soon after the record’s release. The cover track is another prayer about the communal carrying of one another through these days of shadows and doubt. I might play it in church!
I am not going to dupe you. The subject matter and the disturbing sound scapes do not make Good Souls Better Angels an easy listen or make you fall in love with it quickly. This record takes time and its weightiness deserves that time. The investment of time will reap a harvest.
What we end up with is Lucinda Williams’ most urgent album in quite some time. Perhaps the throwing off of those who would bully and manipulate her has given her the freedom to tell us who Lucinda Williams is today. From there she throws spiritual insight of how the world she lives in is today. Ultimately therefore we can learn vital clues to who we are in such times. Now that is exactly what I want any of my favourite artists to be doing.