"You can't rule me," Lucinda Williams declares on the song of the same name, the defiant lead-off song on her blistering new album "Good Souls Better Angels," her most archly determined effort yet. That says a lot, given the fact that Williams has practically defined the very notion of an insurgent artist since the very beginning. Her swagger and sway often brings to mind a drunken sailor who staggers unsteadily down the street, spitting piss and vinegar at random passerbys. Yet, her delivery still deserves notice because it's so obviously charged with venom and verbosity.
This time around, Williams takes her animosity to full throttle. "You're not my master, I'm not your slave...you're a thorn in my side," she declares, sharing her sentiments on the contentious "Bone of Contention," one of many songs of a decidedly visceral variety. Make no mistake; despite its otherwise uplifting title, "Good Souls Better Angels" never comes close to an easy listen.
The three songs that provide the slightest resemblance to actual ballads, "Shadows & Bandits," "Good Souls" and "When the Way Gets Dark" come the closest, but even then, there's an obvious sense of trouble and turmoil. On "Down Past the Bottom," she goes so far as to insist that she's fallen so far that she's reached a place where even "the devil won't go."
Ultimately, Williams' chilling sentiments and intimidating demeanor combine for a spine-tingling effect, the result of her riveting resolve and an insistence that she'll not take pushback from anyone. On the surface, ragged rockers like the aforementioned "You Can't Rule Me," the swampy "Bad News Blues" and the spooky rumble of "Wakin' Up" might be taken merely as a declaration of determination, but given Williams' dire and demonstrative attitude, it's best not to take them simply at face value. She seems to find some recompense on "Good Souls," the song that marks the album's final farewell, but the tattered delivery reflects, at best, the sound of one who's been battered and bruised along the way.
Williams' wounds are indelibly inflicted, the reflection of someone who gives no quarter and has received no mercy in return. As a result, "Good Souls Better Angels" seems more a matter of wishful thinking than any actual attainment.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer and author based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles. His book - Americana Music - Voices, Visionaries and Pioneers of an Honest Sound - is available from Texas A&M University Publishing.