Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
You will hear reviewers, dj’s, and critics throw out the term “concept album”. Personally, I think that is one of the dumbest phrases ever. All albums are concept albums, aren’t they? I have heard Lucinda Williams’ album called a concept album since all of the songs on the album either took place or have some significance to Highway 20. I prefer to call this a themed album. Again, all albums require a concept and vision by the artist so saying concept album is like saying ATM (automated teller machine) machine or PIN (personal identification number) number.
This album has been out since February of this year but I have been remiss in not reviewing it sooner. I cannot wait any longer. Part of my reasons for reviewing this now is the fact that the “Best Of” lists are coming out and Lucinda Williams’ album is not on a lot of them. This is a true travesty of justice since Ghosts is without a doubt one of the best albums of the year and quite possibly the best of Williams’ career. I know that is a bold statement considering Ms. Williams has released some incredible ground breaking albums before such as the self titled Lucinda Williams and Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. However, this album is poignant, and heartfelt and is one of the most moving records I have ever heard.
I am not a really big activist, but this injustice needs to be discussed and possibly righted. She should be on every list for best albums of the year. She poured some very personal and intimate details of her life into song. She wrote it in such a powerful and moving way that this album cannot be ignored. Williams voice is not the same voice that she had in the early 90s. Her voice is a little raspier and a bit road worn. It is the perfect voice for the songs on Ghosts. The early 90s voice would not have delivered these songs with as much power and urgency as the current day voice.
Place In My Heart (Track 4) was written about her brother and laments about the distance that has grown between them. This song is a very personal song and is her way of telling her brother how much she misses him and loves him, even though they aren’t close any more. If My Love Could Kill (Track 12) is a song about Lucinda’s father, Miller Williams and his progression of Alzheimer’s disease and passing. The courage it would take to write and perform a song of this magnitude is unimaginable to me. I think it is an accomplishment that she is able to get through such a song every night when she performs it. There are very few artists that are willing to dig this deep and expose everything like Lucinda Williams does.
Dust (Track 1) is a very beautiful song about death and dying. It is sung in a melancholy way and delivered with raw emotion that Lucinda Williams is known for. The ambient, almost haunting guitars put the finishing touches on this bittersweet masterpiece. Doors Of Heaven (Track 6) is another brilliant work of art by Williams about death as well. This song is a little more upbeat than Dust and seems to indicate that there is an afterlife and that we should accept the fact that as one life ends, another experience begins. We should embrace this, instead of being fearful or morose.
In closing, I would like to espouse the glory of The Ghosts Of Highway 20. Something doesn’t have to be sappy sweet in order to be important or beautiful. The Ghosts Of Highway 20 needs to be heard now and for many years in the future. Lucinda Williams is one of the greatest American songwriters and The Ghosts Of Highway 20 is one of her greatest works.