American country and blues singer-songwriter and multi-Grammy Award winner Lucinda Williams, sometimes known as The Outlaw Queen, has just released Good Souls Better Angels (24 April 2020; Thirty Tigers), perhaps her rawest and most intense album to date.
Now edging towards 70, Williams has lost none of her world-weary acerbic bite or emotional rage, but she tempers this with an abundance of love and warmth for her fellow travellers.
One good example of her untempered fury is the bitter Man Without a Soul, the first release from the album, which appears to be a searing indictment of US President Donald Trump. “I think it is very appropriate for right now”, she says in one of her live performances, before she croons “all the money in the world will never fill that hole … you’re a man without dignity and grace, you’re a man without a soul…You bring nothing good to this world.” Then, after she finishes the refrain “It’s coming down,” she adds for good measure: “That’s for damn sure!”
On the other hand, a powerful example of her generosity and warmth is her reference to recent Covid-19 deaths and hardship in her introduction to the outstanding When the Way Gets Dark. “Everyone is having a rough time right now but we’ll get through it,” she says. “I know that everyone has lost friends and family, it’s a hell of a thing to be going through. I just want to send out my best wishes to you all and let’s just hang in tough – I love you guys.”
Willliams is accompanied on the album by Mark T Jordan on organ, Stuart Mathis on guitar, Butch Norton (best known as the The Eels’ drummer), and Davis Sutton on bass, but when Williams performs the aforementioned two songs live she is alone playing her beloved Gibson J45 acoustic.
Less evident on the album is her 1954 Fender Esquire, valued at around 35,000 dollars. Williams used to happily take this gem out on the road with her until her husband, manager and co-writer Tom Overby, suggested it might be more prudent to leave it at home.
Williams also employs her J45 to play the rousing You Can’t Rule Me, inspired by the Memphis Minnie song of the same name. She says it “always inspires me and makes me feel a little more powerful when I sing this song.”
Two more tracks also merit particular mention from the album: the quieter but no less intense ballad Big Black Train, which showcases the breadth and depth of her vocal range. Big Rotator is another standout track, which recalls the work of Blind Willie Johnson, and is seemingly another jab at the current occupiers of the White House.
Given the rawness, intimacy and passion of Williams’ latest album perhaps it is best to conclude with some direct comments from those who love her most, her fans: “The new album is just phenomenal! This beautiful woman, inside and out, never lets us down. Her voice and lyrics have gained a storm like power over time; always deep and very truthful,” one says. “This woman rips my chest open and grabs hold of my heart. Nobody else can do it quite like Lucinda!” writes another. The Outlaw Queen is back.