Lucinda Williams will release a double album, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, September 30, on her very own label, Highway 20 Records.
She borrowed the title from a line in a poem by her father, Miller Williams, called “Compassion,” which she adapted into the lyrics of the first track. Another cover — if you can call “Compassion” a cover — a version of the late J.J. Cale’s “Magnolia” that clocks in just shy of 10 minutes, closes the 20-song collection. Other than that, the material is all original.
And the album is — how to put this? — the best work of Lucinda Williams’s career.
Williams spoke with the Voice about the recording sessions in a post we published earlier this year. At that time, she described the atmosphere in the studio as “a Tony Joe White, Bobbie Gentry, ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ kind of thing. We were debating whether we should do a double CD or put two separate ones out at the same time. What we’re gonna do, I think, is put them out about six months apart and kind of separate the songs so it’s, like, the rock one and the non-rock one.”
On that last count, she changed her mind.
Tony Joe White actually plays guitar on two cuts. Bill Frisell appears on a couple as well (including “Magnolia”). Elvis Costello’s rhythm section — Davey Faragher on bass, Pete Thomas on drums — splits time with Williams’s own David Sutton and Butch Norton. The legendary Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan is featured prominently.
Back in January, Williams characterized the studio sound as “country-soul.” The country is there, all right, but it’s indisputably Williams country. And the soul often edges on r&b. The songwriting is Williams at her rawest: straight, no filter. The majority of the songs are narrowly focused and personal, though the cut she shares here with the Voice is one of a handful of exceptions.
“East Side of Town,” with McLagan on Wurlitzer and the Wallflowers’ Stuart Mathis guesting on electric guitar, bares the country soul Williams referenced, in an overtly political vehicle that rails against an unnamed public figure/hypocrite:
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
You wanna see what it means to suffer
You wanna see what it means to be down
Then why don’t you come over to the east side of town?
Could be East L.A. — and it probably is. But for that matter, it could just as well be East St. Louis.
Williams hasn’t announced a tour to back the release of Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, but her management assures us there’ll be one, and that she’ll be in New York in mid-November.