The gravel road will bring singer Lucinda Williams to Victoria this month where her soulful, sandpapery voice will play off the aged wood in the Alix Goolden Hall.
Williams has been maneuvering down a path all her own for more than 30 years, emerging from Lake Charles, Louisiana (a town with a rich tradition in all of America’s indigenous music, from country to the blues) having been imbued with a “culturally rich, economically poor” world view. Several years of playing the hardscrabble clubs of her adopted state of Texas gave her a solid enough footing to record a self-titled album that would become a touchstone for the Americana movement.
For much of the next decade, she moved around the country, stopping in Austin, Los Angeles, Nashville, and turning out work that won respect in the industry (including a Grammy for Mary Chapin Carpenter’s version of Passionate Kisses) and a gradually growing cult audience. While her recorded output was sparse for a time, the work that emerged was invariably hailed for its indelible impressionism – like 1998’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, which notched Williams the first of three Grammy awards as a performer.
The past decade brought further development, both musically and personally, evidenced on albums like West (2007) and Blessed (2011), which the Los Angeles Times dubbed “a dynamic, human, album, one that’s easy to fall in love with.” Those albums retained much of Williams’ trademark melancholy and southern Gothic starkness, but also exuded rays of light and hope, hues that were imparted by a more soothing personal life, as well as a more settled creative space.
Her latest album Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone is the first release on her own Highway 20 Records label.
“I felt like I was really on a roll when we started working on the album,” said Williams, who produced the album with Greg Leisz and her husband Tom Overby. “I usually have enough songs to fill an album, and maybe a couple more, but when I started writing for this, the inspiration just kept coming, and the people I was working with kept telling me the songs were worth keeping. It’s not like I was reinventing the wheel – there are only so many things you can write about, love, sex, death, redemption, and they’re all here – but I felt like I was really in a groove here.”
While there’s no shortage of eureka moments on Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, Williams digs deepest on Compassion, which is based on a poem that was published in 1997 by her father, accomplished poet Miller Williams, who died Jan. 1.
“It was challenging, to say the least,” she said before her father’s death. “For years, I’ve wanted to take one of his poems and turn it into a song. You really have to take the poem apart and put it back together, you can’t just sing it as is. Tom had said he felt it might work with Compassion, so I finally started working on it and came up with something. I told my father about it and he loved the idea, which made me really proud.”
With Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone, Williams conjures up the spirit of classic ‘70s country soul and the resulting warmth of tone gives the album a late-night front-porch vibe – one that could be accompanied by either a tall glass of lemonade or something a little stronger, all the better to let the sounds envelop the listener like a blanket of dewy air.
“I didn’t set out to do a whole album of country-soul, but once I started working, a stylistic thread kind of emerged,” she said. “It’s a sound I can relate to, one that’s really immediate and really timeless at the same time – kind of sad in an indefinable way. It’s like something my dad said to me many years ago, something I wrote down and included in my song Temporary Nature (Of Any Precious Thing) because it was so profound to me: ‘the saddest joys are the richest ones.’ I think that fits this album really well.”