Lucinda Williams Explores “Just the Working Life”

One of my favorite CDs of the last few years is the double album Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (2014) by Lucinda Williams. The album revealed that Williams is still at her peak eleven studio albums into a long career and still producing her best work. So, we are excited that Williams will soon release a new album, which includes a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Factory” as well as a Woody Guthrie song.

Williams’s new album, entitled The Ghosts of Highway 20, focuses on characters who live along or travel on I-20, the highway that runs across the northern part of Williams’s home state of Louisiana. The album features fourteen songs, including twelve originals.

The decision to include Springsteen’s “Factory” is relevant to the theme of the album. Springsteen wrote the song for his father, and the song first appeared on Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town in 1978. But nearly four decades later, even as more and more factory workers have lost jobs due to automation and other reasons, the struggles of working people to get by still resonates.

Below, Williams performs “Factory” at one of Springsteen’s own stomping grounds, the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Check out this performance from 2014.

In addition to the Springsteen cover, the album includes “House of Earth,” a song where Williams put music to lyrics written by Woody Guthrie. The haunting song is in the voice of a prostitute: “So come to my house of earth and learn its worth / A few green folded bills to learn of birth.”

In a way, Guthrie’s song is a companion to Springsteen’s “Factory.” One might imagine Springsteen’s factory worker on the other end of the conversation, as the woman recounts her own sad working life and makes promises that she may or may not fulfill: “I’ll furnish red hot kisses and the hole/ That wakes up sleeping sickness in your soul.” Below is a version of “House of Earth” that Williams performed at the Kennedy Center in honor of Guthrie’s 100th birthday.

Like Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, the new album is produced by Williams, Tom Overby, and pedal-steel player Greg Leisz. One of my favorite jazz guitarists, Bill Frisell, also makes a guest appearance on the album. Ghosts of Highway 20 hits stores on February 5, 2016.

What is your favorite Lucinda Williams album? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    New Music: “East Side of Town” from Lucinda Williams

    A new album from singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams is always a cause for celebration, and she will be releasing the double album Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone on September 30. Below is “East Side of Town” from the new album.

    The song sounds great, with lyrics influenced by the recent problems with the economy: “You wanna see what it means to be down / Then why don’t you come over to the east side of town?” Check it out.

    The album features a range of talented musicians, including guitarist Bill Frisell. A No Depression review calls the upcoming album the best one from Williams in more than a decade, while the Village Voice calls it “the best work of Lucinda Williams’s career.” After hearing “East Side of Town,” I can see where they might be right about the album. I can’t wait.

    What is your favorite Lucinda Williams album? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Lucinda Williams Explores “Just the Working Life”
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    This Week in Pop Culture Roundup (Nov. 20, 2011)

    In case you were overwhelmed last week worrying about the NBA lockout or who is the sexiest man alive or the latest on Ashton Kutcher’s problems, below are some of the pop culture stories you might have missed.

    ———-Music———-

    The heart-stopping, earth-shaking,…legendary E Street Band will tour with Bruce Springsteen in 2012 supporting a new album.

    In a new interview, Michael Stipe explained why REM called it a day.
    “The horror was if somebody Twittered or leaked it.”

    Listen to Kate Bush’s new CD 50 Words for Snow on NPR First Listen.

    Also on NPR, you may listen to Michael Jackson: Immortal, the new CD of Jackson songs for a Cirque du Soleil production.

    The Los Angeles Times reported that Drake’s “Marvin’s Room,” on his new CD Take Care, was inspired by a visit from Stevie Wonder.

    The New York Times reviewed the new album by Florence and the Machine.

    The Chicago Tribune reviewed a performance by Fall Out Boy frontman Patrick Stump, who played “shiny funkified soulful pop” in promotion of new solo CD.

    I like music critic Greil Marcus, so will have to check out his new book on The Doors that was reviewed in The New York Times at the link.

    “I’ll be watching you.” Sting released a free app for the iPad that documents his career.

    ———-Movies———-

    Brad Pitt plans to quit acting in three years. I guess they need to hurry up and film Oceans Fourteen.

    Officials are investigating actress Natalie Wood’s drowning death from 30 years ago. Although initial reports claimed a yacht captain was blaming Woods’ then-husband actor Robert Wagner for the death, recent reports note that Wagner is not a suspect. But Christopher Walken, who was on the boat with the couple the night Woods died, has hired a lawyer.

    Karl Slover, one of the last living actors who played one of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz, passed away Tuesday.

    The new film The Great Flood features archival footage from the 1927 flood and music from Bill Frisell.

    The screenwriter for “The Departed” picked his top 5 British crime and suspense films from the 1960s and 1970s.

    Illumination Entertainment is planning a Woody Woodpecker film. (Thanks @VeryAw.) I grew up with the cartoons, so I’m excited that this overlooked character may be revived.

    The Atlas Shrugged DVD was released with a back cover mistakenly saying the movie was from a novel of “self-sacrifice” instead of author Ayn Rand’s contrary philosophy of self-interest. Oops!

    Andy Buckle’s Film Emporium blog wrote an interesting comparison between two epic World War II films, The Thin Red Line vs. Saving Private Ryan. (Thanks @buckle22.)

    Johnny B. Goode! Last weekend, Michael J. Fox reenacted his guitar playing from Back to the Future at a charity event.

    ———-Television———-

    Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton was hired by NBC News.

    Charlie Rose is going from PBS to CBS, which is pairing him with Gayle King.

    A new mid-season comedy on CBS, “iROB,” will feature Rob Schneider and Cheech Marin.

    Ricky Gervais will be back as host of the Golden Globes.

    ———-History and Other Pop Culture News———-

    The new CBS On the Road reported the sad and touching ending to the story of the friendship between Bella the dog and Tara the elephant: Have tissues handy. If you have not heard of Bella and Tara, you might first want to check out an earlier story about the animals.

    “Sticks Like Magic!” CNN reports on the interesting background of the toy Colorforms, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this month. I had forgot about Colorforms, which I had as a kid.

    Long-lost Air Force One tapes made the day JFK was killed were just discovered and put up for sale.

    Nice to have some good sports-related news with Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos rescued safe from kidnappers.

    The Houston Astros are moving to the American League. I’m still confused from the Brewers league switch in 1998.

    Shout! Factory released a new 11-DVD set of Mr. Magoo cartoons, featuring the voice of Jim Backus.

    Check out some New Guinness World Records for 2012.

    What was your favorite pop culture story this week? Leave your two cents in the comments.

    Buddy Miller’s Majestic Silver Strings (CD review)

    I love Buddy Miller’s music, and I love Bill Frisell’s jazz guitar playing. So when I heard they were working together, along with guitarists Marc Ribot and Greg Leisz, and singers that included Patty Griffin and Julie Miller, it did not take me long to plop down my money for the CD, Majestic Silver Strings. I own all of Buddy Miller’s eight albums, and I admire his other work too. This new album, released earlier this month, continues his excellence.

    In recent years, as Buddy Miller has worked on producing other artists and backing them up, he has not released as much of his own music as he otherwise might. But he continues to make great music, and this new album is no exception. Majestic Silver Strings differs from his other albums by adding a large number of guests and a more atmospheric sound from the excellent guitarists on board, but it is still great music. While some versions of the songs stay close to their country roots, other versions stray further from traditional country, such as the outstanding reworking of Roger Miller’s “Dang Me” by Chocolate Genius that gives the song new force and power over its humorous roots. The album is full of excellent music, no matter how you label it. But you will not hear this album on most commercial music radio stations, which generally ignore the great work done by both Miller and his wife, Julie Miller.

    Majestic Silver Strings features covers of a number of classic country songs — such as “Cattle Call” and “Bury Me Not On the Lone Prairie” — as well as some originals. While there is an emphasis on the instrumentation, there are also excellent vocals by Buddy Miller along with Patty Griffin, Julie Miller, Shawn Colvin, Emmylou Harris, Lee Ann Womack, and Ann McCrary. Because of the number of guest artists, Majestic Silver Strings is in many ways more like a tribute album than a one-artist album. So like most tribute albums, there are a variety of sounds from song-to-song. Sometimes that works on albums and often it does not, but here the excellent musicians throughout make this album more cohesive than many other multi-artist albums. My favorite tracks on the album include Shawn Colvin singing “That’s the Way Love Goes” and Lee Ann Womack singing “Return to Me,” neither of which would sound out of place on the Grand Ole Opry stage or in a smoky jazz nightclub.

    Conclusion? If you do not mind variety and a little jazz atmosphere mixed in with your music, you will most likely love Majestic Silver Strings. If you are looking for something that sticks closer to great traditional country sounds consistently throughout an album, you might want to start with one of Buddy Miller’s other albums, like the excellent Cruel Moon. You cannot go wrong either way.

    Bonus Bill Frisell Video: If you are not familiar with Bill Frisell’s outstanding guitar work, while his home is in jazz, he often incorporates country music elements into his work. Additionally, he has covered songs by artists that include Bob Dylan and Madonna. Check out his take on the classic song “Shenandoah” from his Good Dog, Happy Man album.

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