Featuring 20 tracks, evenly split over two CDs, Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone has the weight and breadth of a grand statement. It is certainly every bit the equal of Car Wheels On A Gravel Road (1998) and World Without Tears (2003).
More even than those previous triumphs, Down… feels like a career-defining work from a 61-year-old, casting back over a life lived hard, all careworn wisdom and weathered ennui, full of croakily delivered home truths, all set to a feast of folk and country, rock and blues. Throughout, Williams walks the line between tough and tender, just as she cleverly negotiates the path dividing heartland American music and the alternative, countercultural variety.
Aided by guitarists Bill Frisell and Tony Joe White, along with members of The Wallflowers and The Attractions, songs pour out of Williams, from the raw to the radio-friendly (Burning Bridges is an almost Stevie Nicks-ish potential hit). She seems aware that time is tight, although her voice exudes more resignation than rage, as well as, according to the opening track title, Compassion. But she can do cutting (see Cold Day In Hell), and as for husky obduracy, try Big Mess, where she makes Marianne Faithfull sound like Marilyn Monroe./o:p