Lucinda Williams has long ago cornered the market with a plaintive southern guitar sound that was so powerful you felt your organs rearranged as you listened. Her distinctive gravelly voice (a female Bob Dylan?) and style is firmly rooted in the tradition of country blues. She has had lofty acclaim from her peers, Emmy Lou Harris, Mary ChapinCarpenter et al.
Williams also got a lot of praise for her 1998 album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road while Blessed from 2011 is an even better album, though some songs contain the germ of a condition that plagues her new double album Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone: self-consciousness. Her current offering has not a lot of subtlety and is far too direct.
The last track which gives the album its title ‘It’s Gonna Rain’, is a case in point: “You don’t know the wars that are going on, where the spirit meets the bone.”
‘Burning Bridges’ is an exception – a catchy song evocative of someone righting some past wrongs. Williams sounds like Patti Smith in a full, raucous voice and the energy is compelling. The following track, ‘East Side of Town’, brings us back to more of the subtle-as-a sledgehammer lyrics: “You want to see what it means to suffer, you want to see what it means to be down” – fine idea, but where’s the artifice?
In ‘West Memphis’ “someone got away with murder, a horrible offence”: because, that’s the way they do things in west Memphis.
Perhaps as people get older their self-consciousness increases. As an artist you have you lose it. The sound is there, the songwriting isn’t. She has collaborated with and is name-checked by the likes of Elvis Costello (two of his band appear on the new album) and Vic Chesnutt. Serious company. If she wants to hold on to her reputation she’ll have to do better than this.