Critics and fans love the new double-CD from Lucinda Williams, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (2014). I do too.
The new album is Williams’s first release on her own label, Highway 20 Records, following her departure from Lost Highway Records, which released her albums from 2001 through 2011. Perhaps the move inspired some of her best work, or maybe her long career as a professional just means she continues to get better.
The Independent calls Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone a “magnificent, career-defining piece of work.” AllMusic claims “this music is taut and soulful, but also a document of one woman baring her spirit and mind to the world.” Blurt Magazine gives the album five stars. Meanwhile, the reviewers debate whether the new album is her best since Essence (2001), her best since Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998), or simply her best ever.
Having seen Car Wheels on a Gravel Road as one of the best alt-country albums of all time for more than a decade and a half, I cannot yet proclaim Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone as better. But I can say that the new album reminds me of the joy I felt upon hearing the 1998 album. And similarly, the new album is on constant repeat play in my home (although now the repeated playing comes through an iPod instead of through a CD player).
The topics of the songs include broader social issues, like poverty on “East Side of Town,” while other songs are personal, such as “Compassion,” which incorporates the words of a poem written by Williams’s father, Miller Williams. I cannot say which song is my favorite, but one of the standouts is the confessional “When I Look at This World,” below performed live in Kaufleuten, Zürich in August 2013. “And it’s a different story/ Each time I look at the world.”
The album includes a range of styles, from rock to blues to country shuffle, etc. But it all fits together seamlessly. Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone is one of those rare albums in this digital age that takes you back to a time where you had to listen to the album all the way through with every track in order. Whether or not the new album is the greatest Lucinda Williams album of all time doesn’t matter. It’s one of the greatest of this time.
What is your favorite track on Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone? Leave your two cents in the comments.
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