MAGNET’s #8 Album Of 2016: Lucinda Williams’ “The Ghosts Of Highway 20”

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Lucinda Williams has been making music for nearly four decades. The Ghosts Of Highway 20, her 12th studio album, is a record that honors that long history of styles and subjects, while leaning heavily into the minor-key introspection that’s arguably her greatest strength. Williams can write boozy rockers and barn-burning stompers, but she can write the hell out of songs about people kicking and fighting like mad to escape the circumstances they’ve found themselves in, and that’s what Ghosts is all about—the moments when its characters find themselves going through hell and decide the way out is the way through. Or maybe not; maybe “out” is only wishful thinking, and hell’s where we’re going to be for a while. This would seem like grim stuff, except Williams is among the least sentimental songwriters in contemporary music (“I know about the pain/And all that jazz”). Even the sternest moments on Ghosts are delivered with a wry self-deprecation, and the gentler ones (“Place In My Heart,” “Can’t Close The Door On Love”) exhibit the same tendency to restraint over sentiment. This isn’t an album about the highs and lows but about the middle zone, the region you have to move through to get to the next place. If we’re going to hell, we might as well go together.

—Eric Waggoner

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