Singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams digs deeper into raw, mystical electric blues on her new double album, "The Ghosts of Highway 20." Focused on faith, death, the afterlife and rural Southern settings, "Highway 20" sounds like a William Faulkner novel put to music.
It's not a fun listen; it's not something you'll sing along to; it's not something you'll put on at a party. But it conveys a haunting gravitas that conjures spirits and rattles bones. Those willing to lose themselves in the severe tone of the arrangements and the stark imagery of the lyrics will find "The Ghosts of Highway 20" casts a spell that will move you to contemplate the verities of existence.
Musically, the album alternates between dirges ("Death Came") and gnarled mid-tempo tunes with guitars tangled like barbwire ("Dust"), with forays into hymns ("Doors of Heaven"), voodoo rhythms ("If My Love Could Kill") and woozy waltzes ("If There's a Heaven").
Guitarist Bill Frisell, with his watery chords, spars with fellow string wizard Greg Leisz, adding to the album's other-worldly tone. The two covers, Woody Guthrie's "House of Earth" and Bruce Springsteen's "Factory," fit with the album's obsession with survival and transcendence. "Ghosts of Highway 20" confirms that Williams belongs in the company of those masters.