The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "widdershins" as "in a left-handed, wrong, or contrary direction," and it's not hard to feel that word applies to plenty that's going on in America in the year 2018. It certainly seems Grant-Lee Phillips feels that way, but he's greeting a chaotic time with hope, defiance, and a heart full of rock & roll on the album Widdershins. In the album's first song, "Walk in Circles," Phillips sings, "I'd rather go down fighting for the water/Than start another war for oil/Go find another way to fill the coffers," and it's just one of several tunes where he takes a stand against fascism and greed, and in favor of a better world for us all. But even though Widdershins is clearly informed by what's at stake in Trump-era America, this isn't a set of cookie-cutter protest songs. This album is full of joy and purpose, and Phillips has married them to a great set of hooky tunes with a folk-rock slant. He hasn't entirely abandoned the moody undertow that's always been a part of his music, but the unspoken message behind these songs is that this is not a time to brood, and Phillips has rarely sounded quite this lively and direct. Widdershins was recorded with the same rhythm section Phillips used on 2016's The Narrows, bassist Lex Price and drummer Jerry Roe, with the headliner handling guitar, keys, and vocals, and the finished product sounds remarkably full-bodied for a trio. Phillips and his partners rock with conviction, and when the tempo slows, the music is still full of emotional force. And "King of Catastrophes" sounds like the best Joe Pernice song to appear since the Pernice Brothers called it quits. Full of heart, courage, and passion, Widdershins finds Grant-Lee Phillips going from strength to strength after The Narrows, and it ranks with his best solo efforts.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming