For one of Americana’s most celebrated artists, the best is yet to come

Lucinda Williams has enjoyed a singular 36-year career that has included recording a dozen albums, collaborating with countless artists, and winning three Grammys. Yet the 61-year-old performer harbors no doubt her artistry is still on the ascendant.

“I see myself as an anomaly,” says the Louisiana-born artist as she releases Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, her first-ever double album, and her first release on her own Highway 20 label. “Maybe it’s because I grew up around poets—I remember my dad saying that poets aren’t even considered at the height of their career until they’re in their 50s and 60s. And my voice is the best it’s ever been.”

Lucinda’s dad, Miller Williams, is a respected poet, and he plays a prominent role in his daughter’s new collection: “Compassion,” the leadoff track, is the first of his poems that Lucinda has ever set to music. Stark and haunting, it contains the line that became the album’s title. “My dad loves it, and he’s real proud,” says Williams.

As well he should be—Williams has long been recognized as one of the reigning artists within the Americana genre. “I was Americana before there was Americana,” says Williams with a laugh. “I had a hard time getting a record deal at first because everyone told me I fell through the cracks between country and rock. But I didn’t want to pick one style. When I was coming up in the ’60s, people were identified as artists, not as being part of a genre. Bob Dylan was Bob Dylan—it didn’t matter what he did. That’s what I wanted to be.”

Williams is especially comfortable fitting between those cracks where rock, country, blues and folk intersect—all of which find a home within the music of Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. Williams avoids crafting her albums around specific themes—and she has dry spells and periods when she goes through what she calls a “whoosh” of writing. “That can last a week or 10 days,” she says, “when that’s all I do.”

The new 20-song set, produced by Williams, her husband-manager Tom Overby and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz, features an assortment of guests, including Tony Joe White, Bill Frisell, Ian McLagan and Jakob Dylan. With more room to stretch out and experiment over the course of two discs, Williams and her musicians took a more casual approach in the studio.

“There was a lot of spontaneity. We were going for the feel and not worrying about being so tight,” she says. “And I’ve still got a handful of songs left, which is good because I’m not slowing down any time soon.”

–Jeff Tamarkin

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