Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone by Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams must be one of the best American artists of the past three decades, both as a songwriter and singer. Her career took a long time to get going; Williams achieved initial success when others began to cover her songs. Most notably, Mary Chapin Carpenter released ‘Passionate Kisses’ in 1993 – it became a Top 5 hit and won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song. Williams’s own recording career took off with the release of Car Wheels On a Gravel Road in 1998, for which she won a Grammy and would sell close to a million copies. Her recording output has increased since then, with no let up in quality: Essence (2001), World Without Tears (2003), West (2007), Little Honey (2008) and Blessed (2011) are all excellent albums and well worth buying if you don’t already own them.

Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone is Williams’s first double album. It includes a song crafted from a poem written by her father, the poet Miller Williams, who has described the similarities in their work: ‘My poetry and her songs, you could say they both have dirt under the fingernails.’ It’s also an apt description of the life-hardened characters who appear in Williams’s songs. As listeners, we have lived her heartbreak many times; she is a songwriter who has always exposed her own life, particularly her personal relationships. This songwriting matched with her well-lived voice is a wonderful combination.

This album is peppered with some exceptionally familiar names, including long-time Elvis Costello collaborators Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher, guitarist Bill Frisell, iconic Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan, guitarist Stuart Mathis from the Wallflowers, vocals from Jakob Dylan, and the distinctive guitar tones of Tony Joe White. The 20 new songs here might quite possibly make for the album of Williams’s career, which is no small statement when you consider the quality of her previous albums. This release, in my opinion, currently leads the album of the year stakes.

Dave Clarke is a Music & DVD Specialist at Readings Carlton.