Published Apr 23, 2020The devil has met his match, and it's the 67-year-old Queen of Southern Gothica. On "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," Americana icon Lucinda Williams doesn't so much sing as snarl about pulverizing Lucifer with piety. All the while, she is backed up by bluesy guitar and a creaky violin fit for a Tom Waits deep cut.
And while that standout track on Williams' new album Good Souls Better Angels vividly evokes the devil, it is preceded by an even more horrific song. On "Wakin' Up," she gruelingly details a case of domestic abuse. It would be tough to call the song's protagonist a victim, however, given Williams' sneering tone and promise that she will one day wake from that nightmare. Any abuser would shudder at her palpable anger on that song. Once again, Williams' backing band amps up the emotion, from revving guitar riffs straight out of 90s grunge to drums that bruise as bad as the song's subject matter.
Same goes for blistering opener "You Can't Rule Me" and all the more aptly titled tracks like "Bone of Contention" and "Man Without a Soul" (a Trump takedown for the ages). Suffice to say, Good Souls Better Angels offers plenty to fans of Williams' blistering 1998 classic "Joy" and the righteous fury within. This stands in stark contrast to some of her more recent work like the tender ballads of 2014's critical smash Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. Chalk part of that up to Williams' reuniting with producer Ray Kennedy for the first time since 1998's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, the album that featured "Joy" and enough other gems to garner Williams her star-making Grammy win.
However, there's so much more to Good Souls than that aforementioned fiery fare. She and her band make "Bad News Blues" more than live up to its title, both in tone and lyrics. Closing track "Good Souls," meanwhile, is a stirring seven-and-a-half minute jam in the spirit of New Orleans jazz. As Williams strategically holds high, agonized notes on that final number, you'll long for the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown to end in order to be granted the chance to see Williams' perform this showstopper live.
Williams (quite laudably) isn't delaying her record until the pandemic passes, unlike a slew of other artists. That means those of us in need of a balm for the soul can now hear that soothing track, and the eclectic mix of the album's other astounding songs. Many of those tracks suit the despair, rage and hope of the moment, while also speaking to enough big truths to be timeless. (Highway 20)