The Ghosts of Highway 20, Lucinda Williams’ latest album was number 2 in the UK’s first official Americana chart launched last month according to this article on the Americana Music Association Website. This reflects one guesses the way in which Americana is becoming a distinctly recognised and respected genre of music in the UK. However, there is a question mark about what exactly Americana is and who should and shouldn’t be included. According to an article on the Americana UK website the definition being used by the chart company “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues.” Personally I think the definition should be ‘would BobHarris play them on his Radio 2 Country show?’ On the subject of Bob Harris it seems he is hosting his own festival in May, the Under the Apple Tree Roots Festival where you will be able to hear a number of acts which might well fit the definition.
Lucinda Williams is somebody who he does play but listening to The Ghosts of Highway 20 one senses where the blurred edges might come in. Listening to disc two of this double CD one was clear that Goth and Americana can actually be very close. I found this fascinating because it was clear this was essentially a country record but the feel and sound was not too far removed from listening to a stripped down version of The Sisters of Mercy.
The first disc has elements of this but also has more elements of blues in it too particularly in tracks like Doors of Heaven which is essentially a R&B (old definition) number.
Whilst not a happy album it is a moving set of songs several of them including Louisiana Story and Death Cake could be regarded as genuine songs of lament. If you like modern day Psalms which speak the truth of pain.
My own favourites on the album were Factory which has a real intensity to it and Doors of Heaven where as I say the gloom lifts in the music at least (although the words are still deep and Psalm like).
Would I recommend this album? Yes, but I would say it may not be to everybody’s taste. If you like throw away pop and candyfloss cheerfulness this is definitely not for you but it you don’t mind reflecting on the darkness and like more mature music go for it. Personally, I think it is a great album.
Looking at Williams I see she is over in the UK in the summer playing the Original Cornbury Festival in July where you will also be able to catch Wilko Johnson and Mavis Staples amongst others. I would be pretty sure there must be other gigs in this country to be announced, which I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes open for.