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Did you ever notice how some of music critics’ favorite artists are frankly hard to listen to?  I mean Leonard Cohen seems like a cool guy and all, but personally I find it hard to listen to his music for long periods of time.  Much of his story songs are so similar in tone and demeanor, I kinda get bored. Now I hope Mr. Cohen is not insulted.  I do consider his “Hallelujah” one of the pinnacles of the American Songbook. It’s just that his albums are all very much the same to me and I sense that critics need to approve, because well he is Leonard Cohen. I apologize if my ignorance is showing.

 

The list of artists considered critic darlings is long and full of hard to grasp performances. Granted I’m a fan of the Velvet Underground but when’s the last time you played them and all your friends sat around and said “wow that's great man turn it up.”  I guess the parallel is a fashion show where the designers exhibit extreme emphasis on a fashion statement and then the rest of the world develops clothes people will actually wear.  Much like the bands that list Velvet Underground as an influence of their own far more accessible music.

 

There is an exception however with one Miss Lucinda Williams.  Critics have been fawning over Williams since her self-titled debut in 1988 and it continues to this day. The good news is her stuff is really good, full of insightful lyrics with outstanding musicianship and even the occasional guitar solo.  Her 1998 masterpiece <i>Car Wheels On A Gravel Road </i> garnered significant critical praise including numerous albums of the year honors, a Grammy and it was also a commercial success.

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I bring all this up because the Lake Charles, Louisianan songwriter has done it again and this time with a little help from her poet father Miller Williams.  The senior Williams is an acclaimed poet himself and has recently been stricken with Alzheimer’s, which has spurred much of the inspiration for his daughter’s eleventh studio album <i>Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone.</i> The double album takes its title from a line in one of the elder Williams’ poems. A poem his offspring put to music with delightful results.  The song “Compassion” is a focal point of this brilliant release and just one of its numerous highlights.

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This album’s rich lyrical content gets bolstered by some remarkable musicianship anchored by a rhythm section that usually backs up Elvis Costello. Val McCallum, Davey Farager and Pete Thomas provide some dazzling musical interludes that allow Williams’ song poems to move luxuriously through the sound. This is great sounding music that means something.  Then there is the “psychedelta” sounds of the legendary guitarist Tony Joe White.  Williams refers to him as the delta Jimi Hendrix and it’s not too big of a stretch, as his contributions to this album will have you turning it up.

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Williams has always been confident in her shoes and with this release we begin to see a maturity in thought.  Experience hasn’t soured her though her father’s condition certainly haunts this album, it has left her full of soul and though the grit remains from those gravel road days she has a fresh spirit that must come from the bone.  Her voice, her words and her music have all come together in this exceptional release.  Critics loved it and so do I because it's an album full of songs you will actually listen to and your friends will be impressed at the same time.

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Lucinda Williams Excels to the Bone

Lucinda Williams

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