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After 'The Ghosts of Highway 20,' Lucinda Williams looks ahead to her next step

After 'The Ghosts of Highway 20,' Lucinda Williams looks ahead to her next step
Lucinda Williams launches a new round of concerts on Saturday at the Yost Theater in Santa Ana and will play Jan. 29 to Feb. 1 at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. (David McClister)

Lucinda Williams is feeling a little restless these days and is talking about shifting gears musically in 2017.

It's not that the acclaimed singer-songwriter is remotely unhappy with her work. Last year's "The Ghosts of Highway 20" double album was another career high watermark creatively, exploring topics of family, home, love and wanderlust in 14 powerfully atmospheric songs that stretched out musically thanks in large part to the work of guitarists Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz.

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But the moodiness of those songs, some of which emerged from the deaths of her mother in 2004 and her father, poet Miller Williams, on New Year's Day in 2015, has been a dark and intense space that she's inhabited for much of the last year.

Consequently, she told the Los Angeles Times this week, "I'm ready to move into the next stage of my life. I need to rock out a little."

Music fans will get a glimpse of how that's likely to play out for her with a new round of touring Williams will launch on Saturday at the Yost Theatre in Santa Ana. It's the first in a string of West Coast dates that includes a four-night stand at the Troubadour in West Hollywood Jan. 29-Feb. 1, for which she said multi-instrumentalist Leisz will be sitting in with her band.

"We're working up some new covers as a tribute to some of the artists we lost lately," Williams, 63, said from her home in Studio City, which she shares with her husband and manager, Tom Overby. Even though she's lived in Southern California on and off since the 1970s, the rich, honeysuckle drawl she inherited growing up in Lake Charles, La., has never left her.

"I've always liked David Bowie's song 'Rebel Rebel,'" she said, "and we're going to see if we can work up Prince's 'When Doves Cry.'"

She also cited the Rolling Stones' "Salt of the Earth," from their 1968 album "Beggars Banquet," as a song she wants to include in her shows reflecting her desire "to work on some other songs that will address some of the [messed] up stuff that's going on right now. I'm real cognizant of all that."

"The Ghosts of Highway 20" earned Williams more laudatory reviews, which have greeted her regularly since the release of her 1979 debut album "Ramblin' on My Mind."  Her latest also landed her another album of the year nomination in last year's Americana Music Assn. awards.

It didn't, however, translate into any Grammy Award nominations this year. She's not sure whether it's because of the ,reduction in the categories in which she's often been recognized in years past or the fact that it's released by her  her own Highway 20 Records label, which she formally launched in 2015 with her previous album "Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone." Like many musicians, Williams doesn't make her music with awards in mind, but she confesses that "everybody likes to be recognized by their peers.

"That's been a little disappointing," she said. "It didn't happen on the last album either. But there are pros and cons of having that bigger industry machine behind you."

One of the upsides of going her own way has been her ability to release her last two albums as two-disc sets because of the length of several songs. Previously, she'd been lobbied heavily against going beyond a single disc format for business reasons: double albums typically don't sell as well as single albums.

For "The Ghosts of Highway 20," the motivating factor for Williams was strictly musical: "It was because of the length of the song 'Faith and Grace' that pushed it over into a double album." The track runs nearly 13 minutes, featuring generous expansive guitar solos from Frisell and Leisz.

"The original length is about 19 minutes," she said. "It was completely spontaneous. There was just this feeling when we're in the studio recording, a vibe that was part of the nature of the songs. I thought, 'This is great, let's just let it go.'"

The next stage of her life she referred to may well include another new studio album this year.

"I've got to stay busy," she said. "My mind never stops — it's just constantly going. With all this stuff going on in the world right now, I've got to stay creative and productive. I'm looking forward to writing some new songs, and there will be a new album at some point. It feels good to be able to do all this."

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