About two months ago, Lucinda Williams released her 19th studio album – the double LP, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. While the album received solid reviews, it was lost in the wave of new music coming out for various reasons. Maybe it’s because we have taken Williams for granted, as every song she has written and every album and album she has released for nearly four decades have been gold. As such, critics and audiences just expect her to release another gem. Maybe it’s the result of changing tastes in music with the rise of electronic dance music, hip hop, and mainstream pop, whereas Williams continues to ply her mastery of alt-country. Or maybe, critics and bloggers – and we’re guilty of it as well – are determined to focus on new, independent artists who may be the next big thing.
But some albums, especially from one as great as Lucinda Williams, should not be overlooked. Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone is a terrific album, which only further cements Williams‘ status as the godmother of alt-country music. It is an album that all music fans should listen to, especially younger generations for them to know that Williams has influenced countless number of singer-songwriters from Kathleen Edwards, Sarah Harmer, Shakey Graves, Tift Merritt, TORRES, Sharon Van Etten, Marta Pacek, Martha Wainwright, and on and on.
Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone is classic Lucinda Williams. It is not an experimental album like what Neil Young recently did with Storytone, but instead Williams is focused not necessarily on creating music she knows but rather further mastering her art. And Williams‘ greatest strength has always been her songwriting, using music as the medium to communicate her stories, thoughts, and experiences.
Throughout the album’s 20 tracks that run for more than 80 minutes, we are treated to some fantastic storytelling. The themes are extensive – “Protection” against being hurt by things around oneself; a love affair as told on “East Side of Town” (which could be interpreted as a condensed, alt-country version of A West Side Story); the grittiness of “West Memphis”; the metaphoric “It’s Gonna Rain”; the strength and independence a young woman finds in “Walk On”; and the political savviness of “Everything but the Truth”.
If you’re interested in sound, most of the songs on the album are of the alt-country variety, but there are some other genres touched on the album. “Burning Bridges” and “Foolishness” have the quality of Fleetwood Mac. “Wrong Number” has the subtlety and smokiness of Bonnie Raitt. “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is old-school country, gospel, and blues with a theme to match.
Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone is a must have for any music lover and fans of alt-country. From the storytelling to the music, the album could be considered a history of Williams‘ career and her life as a whole. Hopefully this is not her farewell album because Ms. Williams sounds as good as she ever has.
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