Lucinda Williams has mastered the ability to capture life in her songs, especially the rougher angles of it. When she opens her newest record, The Ghosts of Highway 20, with the line “It’s a sadness so deep the sun seems black,” you know she’s taking you to dark places.
Those dark places all stem from the same lonely stretch of highway she’s traveled over a lifetime that have stirred up memories and ghosts from her past, and made her think heavily about mortality, life and death.
That opening track, Dust, is based heavily on a poem written by her late father, Miller Williams, that he read aloud at the Bill Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997. The song sets the album off on a path, or highway, that carries the 14 tracks.
Over the nearly 90 minute set, Lucinda sings about the endless attempts at understanding life when death will arrive anyway on Death Came, the crossroads between living a righteous life and the promised land on Heaven’s Door, and the period of uncertainty that follows the passing of a loved one on If There’s A Heaven. Much of that may have been impacted by her father’s battle with Alzheimers and passing in 2014, which she directly addresses on If My Love Could Kill.
But as sombre as the record is, there are some uplifting moments. For Place In My Heart, Lucinda pulls back the grit and delivers a love song in a way only she can. Acknowledging that it’s not all roses, and it’s not always easy, “even though you make me blue/I’ve got room enough for you.” She reiterates this again in Can’t Close The Door On Love, with a delivery that even sounds like a happy ending.
The Ghosts of Highway 20 is a musically tame album, especially in comparison to Lucinda’s last record, but it’s best listened to with the understanding that it isn’t so much a musical recording as it is stories and perspectives from someone who has had the experiences to share them.
Tracklisting Disc 1:
2. House Of Earth
3. I Know All About It
4. Place In My Heart
5. Death Came
6. Doors Of Heaven
7. Louisiana Story
1. Ghosts Of Highway 20
2. Bitter Memory
4. Can’t Close The Door On Love
5. If My Love Could Kill
6. If There’s A Heaven
7. Faith & Grace