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Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone

8.6

Lucinda Williams has gone and made herself a double album. It’s technically not her first one, but in an artistic sense, it is. Back in 2005 she released a double concert album, Live @ The Fillmore, a bloated affair so ‘luded out and meandering you were left begging for a drum solo. Subsequent studio recs, including the sorta-strong West and the blissfully tepid Blessed, didn’t do her – or us – any favors, leaving a soured yours truly to complain that the gal was in dire need of some kind of objective editor (read: producer; manager; bandleader; etc.) willing to stand up to an icon and say, “Eh, Luce, maybe you need a new strategy…”

She found one. Or maybe an old one.

This is the kind of collection that, once upon a time in the seventies, gave double-platter sets their legendary lustre. It’s an unapologetic throwback to vintage country/funk swamp-pop while still conjuring the contradictory elements that made us fall in love with Williams in the first place: saucy-yet-sensitive vocals, abetted by rutting-in-the-dirt twang and leavened-by-angels jangle; plus intimate turns of phrase betraying the hurt of an old soul and the ecstasy of one eternally young (sometimes all in the space of a single song, such as with “When I Look at the World,” in which she sings in one verse, “I’ve made a mess of things/ I’ve been a total wreck,” only to pick herself up shortly after, admitting how “I look at the world/ In all its glory/ I look at the world/ And it’s a different story”).

Disc 1 gathers steam early on via the tremolo-infused, midtempo choogler “Protection” (as in, the lonely/vulnerable first-person protagonist needs some) and luminous-yet-edgy confessional “Burning Bridges” which hearkens back to such masterpieces as 1998’s “Drunken Angel” and 2001’s “Out of Touch.” One CD change later, we’re at the album’s unabashed center- and master-piece, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” a growling, drawling, mewling, purring slice of Texas-goes-to-Memphis ‘tude. Somewhere in the middle of all this comes the epic, 6-minute “Foolishness,” a slow-burner that commences upon a bed of heartbeat bass, heartbreak slide guitar and four-to-the-floor drums, then builds toward the type of anthemic crescendo normally reserved for Springsteen and Petty but here – mark my words – destined for LW concert showstopper status.

The album closes with a serene reading of JJ Cale’s “Magnolia,” its lone cover and as genuine a denouement as one could desire following such a tempestuous, nearly two-hour assignation. You’ll want a cigarette; what the hell just happened? While boasting a hall-of-fame roster’s worth of guests such as Tony Joe White (did someone mention swamp?), Ian McLagan, Bill Frisell, Greg Leisz and Jakob Dylan, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone is, ultimately, 100% Lucinda Williams.

Lucinda Williams
Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
[Highway 20]