Americana queen Lucinda Williams released her loudest album ever in April. “Good Souls Better Angels” sounds even louder in August, resonating anew with roaring guitars, rattling rhythms and cut-to-the-bone lyrics.
“This is the kind of record I’ve been wanting to do for a while, just that real edgy, grungy, garage-rock sound,” said the three-time Grammy winner, who on Thursday kicks off the Star Tribune State Fair’s virtual grandstand, a 12-day online concert series.
Williams’ 13th studio album has been dubbed a protest record, an angry shout that reverberates during a time of viral pandemic, racial unrest and political divisiveness.
“I don’t think of it so much as protest songs; it’s more songs about humanity and connecting with people,” said the singer-songwriter known for her trenchant, poetic expressions of heartbreak. “I’ve touched on these kinds of subjects before like [2011’s] ‘Soldier’s Song’— that’s my version of an antiwar song.
“There’s always something to be frustrated about in this country. It’s a little bit more challenging to write about that stuff; you don’t want it to sound too corny. It’s much easier to write a song about unrequited love.”
Williams fires away on the opening track, Memphis Minnie’s “You Can’t Rule Me,” gets down and dirty on “Bad News Blues,” tackles depression in the metaphorical “Big Black Train,” and roasts with “Man Without a Soul.”
All the songs are framed by Stuart Mathis’ guitar that scolds, seethes and scorches.
“He just felt it,” Williams said. “It was a pretty organic process. The frustration level and anxiety has been so high with all the stuff that has been going on and is still going on with the government, or the lack thereof.”
Protest in her DNA
Being angry and fighting for righteous causes are in Williams’ DNA.
“I was quite the rebel when I was a teenager, and it’s still in me,” said the 67-year-old, who got kicked out of her New Orleans high school for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. “My dad was like that, and his dad was like that.”
Her grandfather, who was a rare conscientious objector during World War I, was an antiwar, pro-civil rights Methodist minister, who eventually left the church because he didn’t agree with its practices.
At the University of Arkansas, her father, Miller Williams, roomed with George W. Haley, one of the school’s first Black students (and brother of “Roots” author Alex Haley). The late Haley, who became a lawyer and served in federal government positions under seven different presidents, was Williams’ godfather.
“I haven’t lost my idealism and my spirit,” Williams insisted. “I’m still that girl. I’m older and wiser, but I still have hope for the human race.”
As a songwriter and performer, Williams doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind. She doesn’t worry about alienating her audience, though she has discovered that not all her fans are like-minded.
“At my shows, I was ending with my  song ‘Foolishness.’ I started improvising on the lyrics and I’d say, ‘I don’t need walls in my life, I don’t need hate in my life, I don’t need sexism, racism.’ I used to say, ‘I don’t need Donald Trump in my life.’ That was pretty in your face. I dropped that one.”
Co-writing with her husband
“Good Souls Better Angels” marked Williams’ return to recording in Nashville, working with producer Ray Kennedy, who helmed her breakthrough classic “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” there in 1998.
Also contributing was her husband/manager/co-producer Tom Overby, who co-wrote eight of the 12 selections. She’s hardly ever worked with a co-writer before.
“He’d have some lines or an idea for a song. But he was always so shy about it. He’d say, ‘You don’t have to use them,’ ” Williams said of his previous contributions. “I’ve found it kind of refreshing. It’s another brain. We never really sat and wrote. On this album, he started getting a little braver. He came up with some great ideas.”
Overby, who is from Austin, Minn., worked at Musicland and Best Buy in the Twin Cities. He still has family and friends in Minnesota. The couple got married in Minneapolis at First Avenue in 2009 before the encore at her concert, with her father officiating.
“I love Minnesota. I’ve always really liked it,” said Williams, who has lived in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee and California. “Minneapolis has a special place in my heart.”
She remembers her Twin Cities debut in the dead of winter at 7th St. Entry in 1989. She also recorded her 2001 album “Essence” in Minneapolis. And she and Overby visit his mom, sister and some friends in Minnesota a couple of times a year.
“Now it’s come to mean a lot more,” Williams continued. “I love the people there. They’re so warm. Minneapolis, it’s cold and it’s warm. We were looking at houses there for a while. It still sits in the back of our mind.”
Memoir due in 2021
Having relocated to Nashville this year, Williams has been quite busy during the pandemic. In addition to promoting her album and fixing their tornado-damaged home, she has contributed to an upcoming all-star version of Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout” produced by T Bone Burnett (with Brandi Carlile, Rosanne Cash, Steve Earle and others). Williams also has undertaken two big projects of her own — a memoir and an in-studio themed concert series.
She is penning her memoir with Sam Stephenson, a writer and filmmaker from Bloomington, Ind., who has won a Guggenheim Fellowship.
“I was pretty nervous about doing a book. I’m glad we found Sam,” she said. “I’ve been talking and remembering things. He’s also been talking to old friends of mine. It’s amazing the stories you can glean from what your old friends remember, none of which I remember. It’s been a gold mine.”
The book, still untitled, is expected to be published in late 2021 by Crown Books.
The videotaped concert series, tentatively titled “Lu’s Jukebox,” is expected sooner, possibly on SiriusXM or Netflix.
“I’m actually doing it with a whole band in Ray Kennedy’s studio,” Williams said. “Each [episode] is a different category like Southern soul with songs like ‘Ode to Billie Joe,’ ‘Rainy Night in Georgia.’ ”
Other themes include blues, 1960s country music and Bob Dylan songs.
This new project has put Williams in a happy place. In fact, she insists that she’s hopeful, as evidenced by two tunes on her new album — the sweetly meditative “When the Way Gets Dark” (“don’t give up/ take my hand/ you’re never alone”) and the closing, prayer-like “Good Souls” (“Keep me with the good ones/ Who help me find strength/ You guide me along”).
“At the end of the day, I’m an optimist. Glass is half full but …,” Williams said. “People have trouble putting these two things together: being angry and expressive about how you feel about things and yet having hope. Like you can’t have both?”
Virtual grandstand lineup
A host of renowned music makers will perform daily, filmed exclusively for the Star Tribune. Concerts go live at startribune.com/fair each day at noon. On days with two acts, the second act will appear at 3 p.m.
Thursday: Lucinda Williams
The queen of Americana music’s new album “Good Souls Better Angels” echoes our times with its mix of anger and optimism.
Friday: André Cymone
Prince’s original bassist — and childhood friend — this funk-rocker has raised his voice in song that speaks to the Black experience.
The Rosemount-raised rapper is churning out music at a pace that defies quarantine standards.
Sunday: Jearlyn Steele
The WCCO Radio host and former “Prairie Home Companion” favorite is a member of Minnesota First Family of gospel and soul.
Aug. 31: Cory Wong
This Twin Cities guitar star has played Madison Square Garden and become a regular on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”
Sept. 1: The Jayhawks
One of Minnesota’s most celebrated bands, the alt-country heroes have an acclaimed new album, “XOXO,” but they recorded a fun all-covers set for us.
Sept. 2: Lyle Lovett/Siama’s Congo Roots
Texas singer-songwriter Lovett headlines a twofer day that also includes the infectious Afropop grooves of Congolese guitar picker Siama Matuzungidi.
Sept. 3: Dan Wilson/Cactus Blossoms
Another doubleheader, featuring the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter of “Closing Time” fame, whose band Semisonic is releasing its first new music in 19 years, and country-rock brothers-in-harmony Page Burkum and Jack Torrey.
Sept. 4: Lady Midnight
This fast-rising Twin Cities singer has an eye-popping sense of style and a soothing yet riveting voice that’s part Eartha Kitt, Solange and Jeff Buckley.
Sept. 5: Nachito Herrera
A grave case of COVID-19 that landed him in intensive care for 18 days couldn’t stop this powerhouse piano star from Cuba.
Sept. 6. Molly Maher
A multitalented force on the Twin Cities music scene, this singer/songwriter just released the alluringly organic album “Follow.”
Sept. 7. Kat Perkins
“Fearless” is a watchword for this former finalist on NBC’s “The Voice,” who has a song for fans of every taste.