Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone

Our Rating

review: Marla Cantrell

In Arkansas, we have a special love for singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams. She’s the daughter of poet and professor Miller Williams, who helped found the University of Arkansas Press in Fayetteville, and came to national attention when he read one of his poems at President Clinton’s first inauguration. 

In a September interview with the Wall Street Journal, Lucinda talked about her trip to Fayetteville this summer to perform. Her dad’s health kept him from attending the concert, so she played for a small group at his home. During that time, he read his poem “Compassion,” which happens to be the catalyst for a song of the same name. The album’s title comes from the poem’s final line: “You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.”

The song is a great tribute to her father, and it’s just one of the gems on this double album. There are twenty songs in all, each in the singer’s signature style, which she calls “country soul.” If a thread runs through this album, it’s heartbreak and regret, and she sings these like nobody else could: raspy voice, so full of emotion it feels as if the whole world might fall down around her.

It is impressive that she put together such a big project. (One disk runs forty-eight minutes, the other fifty-five.) It’s even more impressive when you realize that there are seventeen more songs, recorded in the same twenty-one-day period in 2013, that have yet to be released.

One of the best tracks is “Something This Way Comes,” a song Lucinda says was inspired by her love of Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor. She met O’Connor in the late 1950s when she was a little girl. Her father had taken her with him to the writer’s house in Georgia. In the yard were peacocks that Lucinda remembers chasing. It wasn’t until years later that she picked up O’Connor’s darkly comic Southern fiction and started to devour it.

Another great song is a cover of the late J.J. Cale’s “Magnolia,” a song popular in the 1970s. In Lucinda’s version, the song stretches to almost ten minutes, and she seems to take it to new places, her voice aching along with the story of lovers separated by time and space.

Lucinda’s lyrics cut deep, leaving impressions that are hard to forget. “Temporary Nature of Any Precious Thing,” came to her from something her dad said while the two were talking on the phone. In it, you can hear the poetry in her words. Her songwriting talent may be the effects of genetics, or being raised by a poet, or both, but whatever it is, she certainly has it.

Listening to Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone gets under your skin, and makes want for more. But it’s Lucinda’s voice: trembling, whiskey-harsh, that makes it unforgettable.

The Breakdown

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