The heart and soul of rock ‘n’ roll
Move over unrequited love and say hello to political influence. Lucinda Williams’ Good Souls Better Angels is her 14thstudio album, containing 12 tracks of an efficacious blend of folk, country and rock genres. Williams stands as a jarring, bluesy Bob Dylan of the 21st century. Born to a poet and literature professor, Williams seeks to use her voice to write on creative, raw, and unhampered topics.
The album begins with the bluesy guitar strums of “You Can’t Rule Me,” which showcases her headstrong, self-empowerment when she sings, “you can’t rule me/ you can’t take my money and try to rule me too.” Here, Williams expresses her gift of lyricism and dignity in the depths of her gravelly voice.
“Bad News Blues” is similar to George Thorogood and the Destroyer’s “Bad to the Bone” in the guitar’s distorted rhythmic picking. Williams explains that currently, bad news is merely inescapable when she sings, “no matter where I go I can’t get away from it/ don’t you know I’m knee-deep in it?/ who’s gonna believe liars and lunatics?/ fools and thieves and clowns and hypocrites/ gluttony and greed and that ain’t the worst of it/ all the news you could read, all the news is filled to print.” This track clearly appears to be influenced by the socially and politically distraught state America is currently residing in.
“Man Without a Soul” is nothing but a debilitating jab to Donald Trump. Musically, there is a sense of eerie muteness aside from a military march drum roll, as Williams packs a powerful punch to Trump, claiming, “all the money in the world will never fill that hole/ you’re a man bought and sold/ you’re a man without a soul.” The chorus breaks the silence with an epic guitar solo and Lucinda Williams belting, “you bring nothing good to this world beyond a web of cheating and stealing/ you hide behind your wall of lies, but it’s coming down.” The last line is repeated a dozen times, each time with more intensity, as the drum roll grows louder, and the guitar continues to shred. This song is a dark and assiduous ballad.
“Big Black Train” is a measured, peculiar song about refusing to get back on the vehicle that drives her onward to the darkness, not knowing if she “is ever coming back.” This portion of the record is about depression and the lingering, inevitable spiral it leads to. Similarly, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” is about running from the Devil’s call and the shame he causes within her mind, toying with her fears, humiliation, and isolation. “Inside the dark/ behind these walls/ there used to be a spark/ but now the Devil calls,” are some of the lyrics that echo in this stream of consciousness songwriting.
Lucinda Williams showcases an internal conflict of melancholy versus escaping toxicity. Good Souls Better Angels is one of the most profound, obstinate rock ‘n’ roll albums of modern alt-country, rock, and blues. Williams was once a romantic singer but now a virtuous activist, using her record as an icon of social protest.