Just as with her 2014 album, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, it took me several listens to Lucinda Williams’ 2016 album, The Ghosts of Highway 20, before the sound took root in my mind and my heart. But once it did, it fastened on me, seemingly for forever. Of course I shouldn’t be surprised. When my best friend Josie (see Childhood) first played the 1998 release Car Wheels on a Gravel Road for me, I just couldn’t understand why it had grown on her so. Now Car Wheels is one of my all-time favorite albums with hardly a track that I don’t like.
But back to 2016: the eponymous “Ghosts of Highway 20” is by far my favorite track on this album. Not only is it haunting, but it has such a rootsy feel that it takes me right out of my Central Ohio suburb. Which is something to be desired. Then there’s the fact that both Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz (one of the album’s co-producers), each an amazing guitarist, play on most of the tracks, with one of them on the right channel and the other on the left. And very tasty licks they play. Although Bill Frisell doesn’t play on the title song, Greg Leisz pairs up with Val McCallum for such sounds that they will stick with you.
That’s the studio version. Here is Lucinda Williams performing it live and solo:
The other track on The Ghosts of Highway 20 that I can’t get out of my mind for long is “If My Love Could Kill.” I couldn’t find the studio version, but here she is performing it live and solo for World Cafe in March 2016:
It’s informative to me how moving both these songs are, stripped down to their bare singer/songwriter bones. The album apparently got critical kudos in part due to the stylings of Frisell and Leisz (my policy is to read as little music criticism as possible), but, even though they do add to the atmosphere of the album, I don’t miss them at all when Lucinda Williams is performing solo. Her songs, her voice, her acoustic guitar are all we need in order to feel the heart of this music.
Of course, the production values of the studio versions of both these songs are extremely tasty. Williams herself is one of the three co-producers, with Leisz and Tom Overby. The three also produced Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. Obviously a production team made in heaven.
I recommend The Ghosts of Highway 20 to all established Lucinda Williams fans, as well as to anyone looking for evocative music rooted in a certain place, that place here being Louisiana.