Lucinda Williams THE GHOSTS OF HIGHWAY 20

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.

—Michael McCall

The Associated Press


Elton John puts some pep in his pop on “Wonderful Crazy Night,” a more upbeat, natural-sounding album than recent efforts.

Driven by distinctive piano riffs and benefiting from the energy provided by the return of longtime drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone, the 10 tracks, including lead single, “Looking Up,” shine without gimmicks.

Lyricist Bernie Taupin and percussionist Ray Cooper also lend their talents to John’s 33rd studio album, his third in a row produced by T Bone Burnett and the most streamlined of the trio.

Lyrics and melodies are well matched, and while John and Taupin have collaborated on some autobiographical albums and songs, they don’t seem to reveal much this time around.

“I’ve Got 2 Wings” tells the story of Utah Smith, a little-known Louisiana preacher whose efforts to spread the good word were aided by an electric guitar and a pair of colossal wings. In other tunes, Taupin’s images are more worldly but no less fervent — like the title track’s “ice cubes on the back of your neck,” or “you’re an open chord I’m gonna play all day.”

Several songs like “A Good Heart” or “Blue Wonderful” could fit on John’s albums from decades ago, boosted now by a freshness in his voice he didn’t always have back then.

“Wonderful Crazy Night” may not be as colorful as its cover, but it’s a lively, classy effort.

— Pablo Gorondi

The Associated Press