Lucinda Williams: Good Souls, Better Angels (Highway 20 Records) Album Review
Reviewed by Mae Hunt
I have a deep appreciation for talented artists who do not shy away from controversy. In Good Souls, Better Angels, Lucinda Williams does just that, addressing head-on many contentious topics, such as mental illness, domestic abuse, and the devil. The unapologetically loud lyrics paired with a unique bluesy-punk pulse coincide to create perhaps the best album I have listened to in a long while.
Undefinable by just one category, the genre-hopping 12 tracks are versatile. At times, Williams emulates spoken word poetry (Wakin’ Up) and at others she echoes punk rock (Down Past the Bottom). Her raspy voice, which ranges from hissing to bellowing, is paired with pounding drums, electric guitars, and a velvety bass that generate a unique sound for each track.
Released in April 2020, in the midst of social movements, a global pandemic, and politically divided citizens, the album addresses the madness of our current world. In Bad News Blues, Williams voices the relatable inescapability of constant bad news – it satiates our TVs and magazines, reaching us in elevators, in the car, and at the bar. This despair is echoed in Man Without a Soul and, considering the political nature of the album, the unnamed man likely alludes to a man with an overwhelmingly recognizable name, our very own President Trump.
In Big Black Train, Williams shifts away from punk rock and offers us a soulful ballad narrating experiences with depression. Her voice fluctuates between broken and unwavering, as she declares: “I don’t wanna get on board…last time through it took me far away…didn’t know if I was ever coming back.” Not surprisingly, Big Black Train is followed by perhaps the most triggering and raw song on the album, Wakin’ Up. This angry, grungy, electronic track shares the experience of a woman escaping an abusive relationship. The song consists of short syllables and simple rhymes, somewhat resembling a spoken word poem in which the woman’s anger and fear is palpable.
So, yes, Williams undoubtedly ventures to the dark places many artists are unwilling to go. However, she does not simply take us there only to abandon us. Undeniable hope glimmers through many tracks. In the Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Williams sings about resistance and perseverance through inner turmoil. In the quiet and melodious When the Way Gets Dark, she offers inspiring and hopeful words of wisdom. Her croons, “la la laaa”, sounds tired, perhaps from fighting countless uphill battles, but the message is clear: “Don’t give up, hang on tight, don’t be afraid, it’s gonna be alright….”
I simply cannot get enough of Lucinda Williams. She uses her 42 years in the music industry, during which she has won three Grammy Awards and two Americana Awards, to create electrifying and thought-provoking music. Not only is she bold, daring, and unforgiving, but she is willing to display those characteristics in her music to create a downright inspiring album.