The Sun : Lucinda Williams on her new album taking aim at domestic abusers, social media users and the man in the White House

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I WAS supposed to be seeing Lucinda Williams in Nashville but the coronavirus lockdown put a stop to that.

So I make a long-distance phone call to Tennessee's Music City instead, relieved to discover the line is good . . . mostly.

Danny Clinch 2019
Lucinda Williams' searing new album pulls no punches, taking direct aim at domestic abusers, judgmental social media users and the sandy-haired incumbent at the White House[/caption]

But when I suggest Lucinda's bold, bluesy and brilliant new album, Good Souls Better Angels, is a departure from the sultry blend of country, folk and rock on which she built her reputation, I get the wrong end of the stick completely.

In her wonderfully lived-in Southern drawl, she says: "I suppose it's more garage rock."

I reply: "Did you say grudge rock?"

"That's great!" she cries. "Grudge rock! We just created a new category. 'Lucinda comes out with grudge rock!'"

Talking about her new album Good Souls Better Angels, in her wonderfully lived-in Southern drawl, she says: 'I suppose it's more garage rock'

I guess she is tickled at the notion because her searing album pulls no punches, taking direct aim at domestic abusers, judgmental social media users and the sandy-haired incumbent at the White House.

With impassioned vocals and a band on fire, she's made music drawing on the acts she loved growing up in the Sixties.

"The Doors, Cream, the Rolling Stones, real blues-based stuff," she says.

"It also goes back to raw Delta blues and bands like The White Stripes and the Black Keys."

Judging by her latest publicity shots, Lucinda looks the part as a hard-rocker, in biker leathers, dark-blue eye make-up with matching nails and her trademark mop of tousled blonde hair.

Getty Images - Getty
With impassioned vocals and a band on fire, Lucinda has made music drawing on the acts she loved growing up in the Sixties[/caption]

Hell's Angel-chic suits her emboldened songs, so file Lucinda Williams under "Americana" or "alt-country" at your peril.

"I've evolved," says the singer born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in the heart of America's Deep South.

"It's given me a great deal of satisfaction to make a record that doesn't fit with those usual labels.

"I've always wanted to make something stripped-down like this — blues mixed with punk, mixed with garage rock."

It is more than 40 years since Lucinda released her debut album Ramblin' and 22 since her breakthrough classic, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, an emotion-drenched road trip of the soul.

Yet in 2020 she remains fully committed, still pushing boundaries and making the most intense music of her career.

She says: "Because of my age — I'm 67 — people are saying, 'Wow, when everybody else is slowing down, you're just the opposite'.

"I keep having to remind people I'm still the same girl I always was. I haven't changed."

Getty Images - Getty
It is more than 40 years since Lucinda released her debut album Ramblin' and 22 since her breakthrough classic, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road[/caption]

It's true that the fierce attitude on display in new songs was there in past efforts.

Anyone who has heard her emphatic riposte to a violent ex, Changed The Locks, from her self-titled 1988 album will testify to that.

Lucinda is speaking to me from the home she bought with her husband and manager Tom Overby around Christmas.

For the past six weeks they have been in isolation, relying on Uber Eats for food and Netflix for entertainment, while keeping abreast of news about the pandemic.

She says: "I've been comparing this to what our grandparents went through.

"Before vaccines, people were dying from scarlet fever and tuberculosis. Spanish flu was terrible too."

Just the day before I call, Lucinda learned of the Covid-19-related deaths of two significant people in her life — fellow singer/songwriter John Prine and the producer of her 2007 album West, Hal Willner.

"I'm devastated to lose John and Hal on the same day to the virus," she says.

"It's just unbelievable, really getting close to home."

About a year ago, she recorded her version of Life's A Gas for a Willner-curated album featuring the songs of glam-rock pioneers T.Rex and their mercurial frontman Marc Bolan.

Getty Images - Getty
For the past six weeks Lucinda and husband, manager Tom Overby have been in isolation, relying on Uber Eats for food and Netflix for entertainment[/caption]

"Everyone loved Hal and he was always up to something," says Lucinda.

"The T.Rex album hasn't been released yet because he couldn't let it go. He was always adding more artists."

Of Prine, best remembered for his song about a tragic Vietnam vet, Sam Stone, she adds: "He still had the vision. He still had the drive and passion.

"That's what made his death all the more tragic. He hadn't given up."

'We've had to cancel a lot of concert dates'

So how is she coping with the lockdown?

"Well, I'm a homebody when I'm not on the road," she admits.

"I don't mind being inside. I'm not really an outdoorsy person."

I've been referring to her as Lucinda, rather than the more formal Williams, because she's SO friendly.

She says she feels "really blessed" to have the time during self-isolation to talk to music writers about her album.

"I feel like we're friends, like I want to hang out with you and have a glass of wine," she says. "This (interview)  helps me because it gives me something to wrap my head around so I'm not just sitting  all day thinking about John and Hal and everything that's going on."

EPA
Lucinda has long been conflicted about Nashville, having lived there before in the early Nineties[/caption]

But Lucinda adds: "When we started this lockdown, we had to cancel a lot of dates including going to Austin for a Willie Nelson reunion.

"The hardest part is not knowing when it will all go away.

"If I could count the days on my calendar and think, 'Well, it's another six weeks', I'd have stuff to look forward to. But nobody knows."

Some dark themes explored on Good Souls Better Angels seem prophetic in light of events since the recordings, her first with producer and engineer Ray Kennedy since Car Wheels.

Bad News Blues captures the mood with its opening lines: "Bad news on my TV screen, bad news in a magazine, bad news in a newspaper, bad news on an elevator, bad news in the street . . . " and so on.

"What's going on is almost biblical," decides Lucinda.

"We bought this little place in Nashville because we were coming here so much.

"No sooner had we moved in than the tornado blew through town.

"We lost part of our front porch, the fences fell down and we had to get the roof relaid. We were lucky because some other houses were levelled.

"So first the tornado and now the virus. It's the Seven Seals of the apocalypse."

Lucinda has long been conflicted about Nashville, having lived there before in the early Nineties.

Getty Images - Getty
Lucinda received an Honourary Doctor of Music Degree at Boston University in 2017[/caption]

"Because I won a Grammy for Country Song Of The Year (for Mary Chapin Carpenter's cover of Passionate Kisses), they tried to pull me into the mainstream country scene.

"They set up meetings and you write a song with someone you don't know. It was the opposite of what I'm about, so I rebelled.

"Then they saw me as an outlaw, like Steve Earle. It was us against them."

She says the city wasn't "as cool" then as it is now.

"People would ask, 'What church do you go to?' Not, 'Do you go to church?'

"They assumed everyone was a Christian without finding out first.

"When I wore my leather jacket back then, everyone stared at me," she adds.

But today Lucinda finds Nashville "less overpowering" — and convenient because it's the home of her publicist, her business manager and her record label Thirty Tigers.

We turn our attention to Lucinda's lockdown partner, husband Tom, who makes a significant contribution to the creative process that resulted in Good Souls Better Angels.

"Tom got a little more confident and started showing me his ideas. He came up with Man Without A Soul," she says.

Handout
Some dark themes explored on Good Souls Better Angels seem prophetic in light of events since the recordings[/caption]

Listen to the crushing lyrics and you'll quickly realise it's a thinly-veiled swipe at  Donald Trump, as America's old divisions widen again.

"I don't want to say that it's exactly about that person because I like to leave it open to interpretation," says Lucinda.

"The other day Tom said, 'Don't tell people that song is about Trump' and I said, 'I'm not telling them, they're telling me'. It's pretty obvious.

"We're all feeling angry and frustrated, so it had to come out somewhere."

Lucinda credits her man with dreaming up the heart-wrenching Big Black Train too.

"When he first brought the idea to me, I said, 'What can I write about a train that hasn't been written?' "

She says there are countless songs about "getting on the gospel train", hence her initial hesitancy.

But she reveals that Tom was thinking about "the big, black cloud of depression".

"Then I got into it, finished the lyrics, wrote the melody, did the arrangement.

"Now when I sing it, it makes me cry. Other people have said it makes them cry too."

Such is the raw emotion in Lucinda's voice that you quickly know the song hits the emotional bullseye.

Getty Images - Getty
Talking about the coronavirus lockdown, Lucinda says: 'The hardest part is not knowing when it will all go away'[/caption]

"I know it's going to be good if it affects me that much," she says. "I know I've got something worthwhile."

It is the same with If My Love Could Kill, written for her late father, the poet, writer and university professor Miller Williams, which appears on her 2016 album The Ghosts Of Highway 20.

Lucinda says: "When we're doing that song in shows, we have a screen behind us showing old photographs.

"Sometimes I turn around and get a glimpse of his face and that can move me to tears."

Lucinda has an unrivalled knack for sounding tender and vulnerable one minute, kickass and defiant the next.

Her new album's opening blast, You Can't Rule Me, bristles with anger — clearly the work of one of the most powerful female voices in a male-dominated business.

"I don't know why there aren't more women doing this," she says.

"When I was growing up, my dad was very progressive, as were my mother and step-mother.

"I wasn't raised just to get married and start a family. It was more about having a career."

Her dad, who died in 2015, would surely be proud of his daughter's latest endeavours.

Though it is far away from country music, Good Souls Better Angels bottles up the unbridled spirit of that genre's authentic greats and is nothing like the product of Nashville's soulless songwriting factories.

"I love REAL country music," she says.

"Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, George Jones and (her namesake) Hank Williams."

"But as the years have passed, I've grown and done different things.

"Now, everyone's hearing my new album and saying, 'Wow, where did that come from?' "

Lucinda Williams Good Souls Better Angels

LUCINDA WILLIAMS: GOOD SOULS BETTER ANGELS

  1. You Can't Rule Me
  2. Bad News Blues
  3. Man Without A Soul
  4. Big Black Train
  5. Wakin' Up
  6. Pray The DevilBack To Hell
  7. Shadows & Doubts
  8. When The Way Gets Dark
  9. Bone Of Contention
  10. Down Past The Bottom
  11. Big Rotator
  12. Good Souls





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