Album Review: Lucinda Williams, 'Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone'

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lucinda williams down where spirit meets bone
Lucinda Williams' album, 'Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone', releases Sept. 30, 2014. (© 2014 Highway 20 Records.)

 It was a little daunting to get started on this album review. In this age of digital downloads, does anyone even care about albums, let alone double albums?! But once I slapped this one in, I realized how much I enjoy Lucinda Williams' music, and how good she really is; she is one of the great songwriters of our time and an Americana legend.

For her first album in four years, she pulled out all the stops. Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone is a sprawling collection featuring 20 songs, almost all written by Lucinda herself. During much of her career, it seems like she overthought her albums. With this one, she has more of a devil-may-care attitude. It's almost as if she said, "Here are my 20 songs; hope you like it!" She introduces her latest batch with the stark, somber and bluesy "Compassion," which is based on a poem by her father, author and poet Miller Williams, which marks the first time she incorporates her father's work into her music, and it's where the album title was borrowed.

From there it kicks into the Tom Petty-esque rocker, "Protection," then the album's lead single "Burning Bridges" made me think that just because she's been happily married for several years now doesn't mean her music has gone soft, especially when she reels off lines like, "I can add you to a list of things that keep me up at night." It seems like a good chunk of her material comes from relationships gone wrong; another is "East Side of Town," which features lines like "You think you're mister do-good/But you don't know what you're talking about/When you find yourself in my neighborhood/You can't wait to get the hell out." Maybe she kept her old diaries.

Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone features an impressive cast of players. People like Jakob Dylan, Ian McLagan on keys, Elvis Costello's rhythm section, and guitarists like Bill Frisell and Tony Joe White, who lays down his swampy voodoo thing on "West Memphis," Lucinda's song for the West Memphis Three. White also does his thing on the greazy funk tune, "Something Wicked This Way Comes," which is another of the album's highlights.

There is plenty to like on this one, from the twangy country shuffle of "This Old Heartache," where Lucinda is longing for a missing lover and features the weepy pedal steel of the legendary Greg Liesz, to the rocker "Everything But the Truth," with McLagan's tasty organ flourishes, and some smokin' guitar from Stuart Mathis from The Wallflowers.

This album is simply rich with top-notch Lucinda tracks. Songs like "Foolishness," where Lucinda unleashes about it being hard to hide in this world of TMZ and celebrity culture: "All of this foolishness in my life/What i do on my time/Is none of your business and all of mine," and "One More Day," which has kind of a blissful, Muscle Shoals feel.

I also must mention Lucinda's gorgeous cover of "Magnolia," the lovely tribute to the late J.J. Cale, which clocks in at over nine minutes, making it a stunning closer on a wonderful set of tunes.

There is a lot to absorb here, but if you are a fan of songs and songwriting, this one sounds like a classic to me. Nice work, Lucinda!

Sample this album on Slacker.

What do you think of the album? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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