Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone


Earlier this year Lucinda Williams re-released her self-titled 1988 album. It’s a great work. But listening back after all this time, what’s striking is the pace of so many of the songs. They can really rattle along. The contrast with West – released in 2007 – is stark. By this point, the tempo was slower, much slower. It suited her deepening voice and her ever more world-weary themes. It’s a great work too. But it’s very different. Some seven years further on and, surprisingly enough, the pace has picked up once again. ‘Protection’ and ‘Burning Bridges’ strut confidently along. ‘Walk On’ scarcely keeps one foot on the ground. And ‘Foolishness’ – perhaps the stand-out track – gets into an irresistibly funky groove. Across twenty tracks and 104 minutes, time never stands still. Yet this is still a recognisably intense Lucinda Williams record. The album is bookended by two gloriously slow numbers. The opener, ‘Compassion’, sets one of her father’s poems to music. Boy, that must have been some household. While the closer, ‘Magnolia’, is just about the best version of the J.J. Cale number that you could want to hear. Across the set the voice plays plenty of tricks. Even compared with her most recent outings, here she’s willing to warp and distort it to suit the song. And while now she writes much more in the first person than she did all those years ago, the mood has scarcely lightened. When she titles a song ‘Cold Day In Hell’, you know it’s not going to be a song about soccer moms and bake sales. It’s clear that plenty of things have changed since Lucinda Williams released her 1988 album, but on ‘Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone’ she seems to have regained a certain confidence. Maybe it’s a confidence that expresses itself more in song-writing than life in general. And if so, we really are the lucky ones.

Music OMH review

Blurt review

New York Times review

Pop Matters review

Anaïs Mitchell – Xoa


It’s an iron law that Deluxe editions of your favourite album are usually a disappointment. The album itself sounds just as fine as ever, but then you already own a copy. You’re buying it for the extras and they’re almost always underwhelming. There might be a nugget here and there. ‘Forget Her’ from Jeff Buckley’s Grace, The Legacy Edition, is one. But in the main they prove the rule that artists are pretty good at recognising their best work the first time around. If it wasn’t good enough then, it probably still isn’t now. Only a few exceptional performers have enough genuinely good material in the vaults and have recorded any truly transformative versions of old songs to make the Deluxe edition worthwhile. Bob Dylan’s Bootleg series. Neil Young’s Archives. And now, Anaïs Mitchell! Xoa is a collection of unreleased songs and reworked versions from previous albums. Ordinarily this would mean a hotchpotch of styles and sounds. Lots of tape hiss and lo-fi demos. But not here. The songs have been newly recorded. There’s just Anaïs with a guitar throughout, but the production values are high and, crucially, consistent across the set. For that reason, it has the feeling of a new album, ebbing and flowing like an original composition. The unreleased tracks are already timeless. Even at first listen, they’re so familiar you’re wondering where you heard them before. Surely this can’t be the first time that ‘Anyway The Wind Blows’ has been released? As for the reworked versions, there are two from both Hymns For The Exiled and The Brightness, one from the Country EP with Rachel Ries, one, the title track, from Young Man In America, and no fewer than four from Hadestown. Unsurprisingly, it’s the latter that are the most revelatory. Listening to her sing Greg Brown’s vocal from ‘Why We Build The Wall’ is nothing short of remarkable. To hear her reprise Justin Vernon’s part on ‘If It’s True’ is simply spellbinding. More that that, they’re a reminder that these are her creations, not theirs. And they’re truly worthy of a Deluxe edition. Xohlm.


Ólöf Arnalds – Palme


Missing Joanna Newsom? Then Ólöf Arnalds might be just the thing for you. The voice is the most obvious point of comparison. It’s not so much a lead vocal placed ahead of everything else, more an extra instrument in the whole collage of sounds. Soaring and pitching. It weaves its way in and out of the melody. Sometimes guiding. Sometimes following. A thing of rare beauty. But the voice is the easy comparison. The real similarity lies in the rhythm of the songs. Multiple. Surprising. Always uplifting. Where will the next song take you? Who knows? But it’s always somewhere unusual. And that’s the real trick. For this is Ólöf Arnalds’ second English-language album. The first, Sudden Elevation, was a mainly ho-hum, folky acoustic affair. An unexpectedly conservative statement from a former member of múm. By contrast, Palme is a radical pamphlet of ambitious musical intent. The basis is chamber folk. But with a mix of piano, violin, gentle percussion, backing vocals, and a variety of acoustic guitar sounds, including the Andean charango no less, there’s a richness to the palette that was absent before. This time, though, a certain furore has been caused by the inclusion of electronic elements too. The age of folktronica has passed. So, it’s easy to dismiss them as either irrelevant or passé. Yet, the criticism is misplaced. This is no burble of buzzes, no symphony of switches. For the most part, the electronica is just another colour, an additional texture. More than that, even a track like ‘Half Steady’, which is built on synthetic themes, is shaped to match the ethos of the album as a whole. The many rhythms. The voice ascending. With Palme, Ólöf Arnalds shows that she has some very special qualities. It might be just the thing you need. Oh, and there’s a version in Icelandic too.

For Folk’s Sake review

Music OMH review

Renowned For Sound review

NME review (oh dear!)