While Lucinda Williams' record was made prior to the current worldwide pandemic, its dozen songs are rife with bad news on the left, bad news on the right, as she sings on "Bad News Blues." It's a spare, mid-tempo tune where the singer laments a litany of "fools and thieves, clowns and hypocrites." But the narrative behind her 14th studio album leans more political than personal. Co-produced by Ray Kennedy, who worked on Williams' iconic 1998 album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Good Souls Better Angels is the Louisiana singer's most fully realized work in more than 20 years.
She kicks off the collection with the empowering "You Can't Rule Me." Here, Williams' voice is tough and certain, as she evokes the take-no-prisoners attitude of Deadwood heroine Calamity Jane. Elsewhere, she excoriates the titular gent in "Man Without a Soul," which has been interpreted as a dig at President Trump. While the singer-songwriter delves into a black cloud of depression in the slow churn of "Big Black Train," it's on the pointed, lyrically rich story-songs that her vocals are at their most forceful and effective. "Wakin' Up" details an abusive relationship with a drug user, and she hearkens back to the blues of Robert Johnson and his ilk in "Pray the Devil Back to Hell."
In the 40 years since her debut, Williams has turned into a truth-telling musical treasure. With Good Souls, her intimate vocal delivery may seem ideal for dim musings, but in these "dark new days," as she notes on "Shadows & Doubts," her voice is still a balm for the distressed soul. A-