“Good Souls Better Angels”
(Highway 20/Thirty Tigers *** 1/2)
The consensus is that the high point of Lucinda Williams’ career is 1998’s “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” — and that the Southern vernacular musician’s other classic albums date back even further, to 1992’s “Sweet Old Word” and 1988’s “Lucinda Williams.”
That thinking isn’t wrong, but it gives the false impression that Williams’ glory days are far behind her. In reality, both 2014’s “Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone” and 2016’s “The Ghosts of Highway 20” showed her still digging deep into source material from country, blues, and soul to make wounded, resonant music.
“Good Souls Better Angels,” Williams’ 13th studio album, continues that winning streak, with an added ingredient: rage. It’s the 67-year-old singer’s most overtly political album, and also her loudest and most rocked-out.
Recorded with her road band, “Good Souls” kicks off with the scuffed-up, throbbing blues number “You Can’t Rule Me,” a defiant statement of self-determination fired up by Stuart Mathis’ slide guitar.
President Donald Trump is not named but clearly the target of Williams’ ire in “Man Without a Soul,” an unforgiving condemnation that’s a close relation to Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War.”
“These are dark new days,” Williams sings in “Shadows and Doubts.” But as she scours a grim landscape in “Pray the Devil,” she does find cause for hope: “Nobody can save you,” she sings in a scarred, still powerful voice, “except yourself.” — Dan DeLuca
(MCA Nashville ***)
“I’m sorry I named the album ‘Montevallo’/ And I’m sorry people know your name now/ And strangers hit you up on social media,” sings country’s first Drake-inspired star.
That would be Sam Hunt’s previous album, “Montevallo,” named for the Alabama hometown of the woman who’s now his wife. Its follow-up, “Southside,” has been six years in the making, in part because he let her go and put serious time into getting her back.
No one said aping Drake is good for one’s personal decision-making. Still, it’s given Hunt a sound like no other: atmospheric country-pop tunes built on hip-hop drum machines and mercenary hooks.
“Southside” shamelessly includes his goofy smash, “Body Like a Back Road,” even though it’s three years old — and even though its “driving with my eyes closed” hook feels awkward after Hunt’s November DUI arrest. The song fits right in, though; the singer’s breathy John Mayer affect hasn’t evolved much since.
The surprises are “Nothing Lasts Forever,” which adds fiddle to the Weeknd’s desolate R&B, and the lovely “Hard to Forget,” on which the Nashville mainstream embraces sampling technology. — Dan Weiss
The Mountain Goats
“Songs for Pierre Chuvin”
When the Mountain Goats began, it was just John Darnielle declaiming his lyrics, hard-strumming his guitar and pressing “Record” on a boom box. That era ended with 2002’s “All Hail West Texas,” and the Mountain Goats have since grown into a sophisticated quartet (and Darnielle into an acclaimed novelist).
When work on their next record got interrupted by the coronavirus, Darnielle went back to his old ways, and his old Panasonic boom box, to make a quick solo record — and release it on cassette, with profits going to his band and crew.
Darnielle used Pierre Chuvin’s “A Chronicle of the Last Pagans” as a catalyst. That book, about the fall of pagan culture, is the flip side of the Bible verses he used for 2009’s “The Life of the World to Come.”
“Songs for Pierre Chuvin” is immediate and unvarnished, allusive and self-referential. Darnielle loves to champion subcultures and underdogs. The pagans here are like the goth rockers, pro wrestling fans and D&D gamers from his other albums. They’re trying to maintain their identity and dignity in the face of powers that threaten their existence.
“Make it through this year/ if it kills us outright,” Darnielle sings in “Exegetic Chains,” alluding to one of his own signature songs and to our current existential predicament. — Steve Klinge
©2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.inquirer.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.