New releases from Lucinda Williams, Brett Harris and Dr. Lonnie Smith 

Sound Advice

click to enlarge Lucinda Williams
  • Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams

The Ghosts of Highway 20

Thirty Tigers

File next to: Patty Griffin, Tift Merritt, Gillian Welch

Lucinda Williams has expanded both quantity and quality in a late stage of her career. In 16 short months, she has released two double-disc albums of new studio material that include some of her best songs. 2014's Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone was a hard-edged ode to her departed father, while The Ghosts of Highway 20 is a softer, sadder toast to a vagabond life. Bill Frisell and David Sutton contribute studio licks that provide life to all 14 songs. Disc 1 opens with the chilling "Dust," while the title track that opens Disc 2 underscores the near-mystical turn Williams has taken. The repeated chants in the 12-minute "Faith & Grace" that closes the album give the work a feel close to Patti Smith. Ghosts stands as Williams' most heavily haunted work. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Dr. Lonnie Smith
  • Dr. Lonnie Smith

Dr. Lonnie Smith


Blue Note

File next to: Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Shirley Scott

The title might be taken as a hint that the honorific Dr. Lonnie Smith's music is going somewhere it hasn't been before. But that's not really the case with Evolution, the 24th long player from the esteemed soul-jazz organist and early associate of guitarist George Benson. Actually, Smith's music doesn't need to go anywhere new, as he and his ace band tear through some tuneful, deep-groove instrumental numbers that showcase the simpatico musical relationship they share. Smith is prominent on his gurgling, wonderfully expressive Hammond B3 organ, but he also gives his musical co-conspirators plenty of room to blow on saxophone, trumpet, guitar, piano and drums. It doesn't quite capture the excitement of seeing Smith and band live onstage, but that's a tall order. In turns subtle and exuberant, Evolution is a treat. — Bill Kopp

click to enlarge Brett Harris
  • Brett Harris

Brett Harris

Up in the Air

Hit the Deck Recordings/Redeye

File next to: Chris Stamey, Emitt Rhodes, Pete Yorn

You can learn a lot about a musician by studying the company he keeps. Durham, North Carolina-based Brett Harris has been a key component of Chris Stamey's "Big Star 3rd" concerts, and The dB's have also enlisted him as a utility musician and vocalist. Harris' set was a highlight of the 2013 Hopscotch Festival, but he's taken his time to get this, his second album, right. The warm and inviting Up in the Air reveals a young — yet seasoned — songwriter who's musically wise beyond his years. The disc's clean, straightforward production showcases Harris' strong, tuneful melodies. The chiming "End of the Rope" is as winning as anything on Big Star's first two discs, and a helluva lot sunnier than their third. Up in the Air will have lovers of classic pop reaching for the "repeat" button. — Bill Kopp

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