Lucinda Williams, "The Ghosts of Highway 20" (Thirty Tigers)
This new double disc unfolds like a great short-story collection. It is no lighthearted affair, with songs weighing issues of mortality and immortality, of love and forgiveness. The album was inspired by I-20, which runs between South Carolina and Texas, a road that Williams traveled growing up. She just dives right in with "Dust," which may be the hardest-hitting song on the album. Based on a poem by her late father, Miller Williams, there's no nostalgia here, only despair. That's not to say that there aren't uplifting moments, but they are layered, complicated efforts, even when they appear simple. Though nearly all of "Ghosts" is Williams' creation, she does rework some Woody Guthrie lyrics to create the complicated relationships of "House of Earth" and remakes Bruce Springsteen's "Factory" in her own 21st-century Americana image. That the work of those greats seems indistinguishable from the rest of this album only proves that Williams remains one of music's greatest songwriters.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday