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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