Lucinda Williams on a new album, losing John Prine, and hanging out with Shane MacGowan

Lucinda Williams on a new album, losing John Prine, and hanging out with Shane MacGowan
Lucinda Williams Picture: Danny Clinch

Last year Lucinda Williams took her much loved alt-country classic Car Wheels On A Gravel Road on tour for a 20th-anniversary run.

After reconnecting with the records’s co-producer Ray Kennedy she released another widely praised long-player Good Souls Better Angels working with him for the first time since her Grammy-winning breakthrough in 1998.

“It felt really easy and very organic to work with Ray again,” says Williams of the album released in April. “People are saying this is my best record since ‘Car Wheels On A Gravel Road’ so obviously I should have been working with Ray all of this time”.

Williams laughter and slow Southern drawl is coming down the line from Nashville.

Due to the Covid-19 lock-down, like many other artists, her tour has been put on hold until later in the year, with a number of dates in Ireland featuring among the postponements.

The previous tour turned out to be a reflective experience as much for the audience as for the 67-year-old singer/songwriter.

“The big difference with those shows was having the photographs behind us on the screen, I wrote ‘Drunken Angel’ about  Blaze Foley, we had the perfect picture of Blaze with Townes Van Zandt and Rex Bell, the three of them in their glory days.

"It was nice for the audience to put some of the faces to the names like the guy I wrote ‘Lake Charles’ about, I was also able to go more in depth with of the stories of those songs.”

Speaking of outlaw country singers, Williams has previously paid her respects to Ryan Adams who played guitar on the title track of her 2001 album ‘Essence’.

Last year sexual misconduct allegations were made against the singer/songwriter. While it recently emerged Williams included ‘Shadows & Doubt’ about Adams on her latest album she makes it clear the song is not “defending” him.

“I still can’t figure out how people know that but yes his story has inspired that song but it’s as much about fame, the press, people talking and getting the wrong impression…the things that happen when you get talked about.

"When you know someone personally and you are reading these things it’s a whole different perspective than if you didn’t know the person.”

Williams upset a number of Donald Trump supporters when ‘Man Without A Soul’ was uploaded to give fans a first taste of the album earlier this year and was taken aback by angry retorts on social media.

“I can’t believe it, we posted the song on Facebook and I got these responses that were really shocking. The song doesn't have to be about Trump, it was one of Tom’s (Overby, Williams husband and manager) songs and we worked on it together.

I’m not telling people’s it’s about Trump; they are telling me! Once you write a song it’s out of your hands.

The time off has given the three times Grammy winner time to work on a forthcoming memoir as she reflects on her much-travelled 40-year solo career, while promoting ‘Good Souls Better Angels’ around the globe.

“I’m a survivor, that was built into me since childhood, I guess I’m lucky because I’ve had so many interview requests. I set a schedule every day, its almost been like a job. I have something to look forward to which has really helped.

"We then have dinner and I get caught up with a film that I’ve not been able to see from being on the road and that’s the day done. I feel okay, I’m somewhat of a homebody anyway but I miss going out with my friends and having dinner, a glass of wine and seeing a show.”

It’s also been a time of grief with the loss of her friend, the great American songwriter John Prine and the producer of her 2007 album West Hal Willner who both died due to complications from coronavirus. 

 “It’s just been horrible, we lost Hal and John on the same day (April 7th).

I’m still reeling from the loss, every so often I can’t believe that Hal is gone.

"We were a little more prepared with John having some health issues and being a bit older, we knew there was a possibility but with Hal we had no clue, he was just gone, the whole thing is tragic and very sad.” 

‘Good Souls Better Angels’ features some stunning examples of Williams well-established American gothic and religious imagery, with the likes of ‘Pray The Devil Back To Hell’, ‘Down Past The Bottom’ and ‘Big Rotator’ summoning the blues she was first introduced to by her poet father (Miller Williams) as a child in Macon, Georgia.

A “pivotal” moment was when he took her to see Blind Pearly Brown, a preacher and street performer who passed on a compelling Christian stew of blues, gospel and country.

 “I’ve always been drawn to that imagery, it’s a beautiful way to explain things… I’ve always loved and been fascinated by it.

"The visual aspect that has come out of it in folk art; the bleeding Jesus, and Mary with her heel on the snake, all of that fascinates me. It’s in the blues and early Bob Dylan; the one that comes to mind is ‘Highway 61’; ‘God said to Abraham, kill me a son. Abe said, ‘Man, you must be puttin' me on’.

"It brings a contemporary structure and I’ve always loved that contradiction in a song. Leonard Cohen did it and Nick Cave is another perfect example.” 

Prior to working on this album Williams co-produced Jessie Malin's ‘Sunset Kids’ co-writing and performing on a number of tracks including on inspired by Pogues front-man Shane MacGowan. 

“I met Shane one time in New York with my band in the 90s”, she explains.

“We met him in a bar and he ended up in the hotel. I have this vision of him walking down the hall playing a piccolo, everyone had been drinking, it was late and there he was.” 

Did working with Jesse Malin help set the tone for this record?

“That’s a good question that no one has asked; I never thought of it consciously but it may well have because it was close to finishing Jesse’s record and listening to his rockin’ out…he’s always had that punk vibe.

"At the listening party for my album in New York he said: ‘Wow this record reminds me of a cross between Howlin’ Wolf and Iggy Pop…for Jesse to say that, it was perfect; he got it right away.” 

Good Souls Better Angels Is out now. 

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