Had I stuck to my plan, you’d likely be reading about the emergence of cowboy hats in roots music, after the genre enjoyed a brief fling with the fedora. Coupled with prairie couture, this year has seen a subtle shift in fashion and style among the younger set in particular, and it seemed to be a topic of interest that I am admittedly and imminently unprepared and unqualified to speak of. While I was nevertheless going to regale you with the history of the Stetson and bring in scientific theory as to why the ten-gallon hat holds only three quarts of liquid, a postscript to this year’s award show at the Americana Music Festival felt like it should take precedent.
I’m sure some of you already have heard that Lucinda Williams, along with her co-producers Tom Overby and Greg Leisz, received the album of the year honors for Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, her sprawling and sparkling collection of 20 songs that clocks in at 135 minutes or thereabouts. It’s an album that has received much praise from music writers and bloggers on websites such as this, as well as in daily newspapers and monthly magazines. In his review that was published last year in The New York Times, Ben Ratliff wrote:
She’s pithy and penetrating, bruised but steadfast, proud of the grain and drawl of her voice. Her music places itself in a vanishing, idealized Southland where country, soul, blues and gospel all share a common spirit and a vocabulary of twang, and where life lessons can be delivered by a bar band.
Her new songs are full of advice, empathy and testimony to obstacles that have been overcome, or will be.
Fred Mills at Blurt described the album as “a snapshot — or feature-length film, take your pick — of a 61-year old woman fully renewed and at the height of her creative powers.” And Andy Gill at The Independent said that it “may be the best work of her career, a compelling survey of love and life to challenge the bitter insights of West and World without Tears.”
As these reviews mirrored my own listening experience, it pleased me to hear the news of this recognition. Williams is a beloved outlier who I connected with through her self-titled Rough Trade cassette, and Overby is an old friend. Admittedly I don’t usually pay close attention to polls and awards, and the concept that there is just one song, one album, or one artist that is better than the rest sort of gnaws at me.
There was a time in my life where I could argue for hours about the merits of one album over another. I was very opinionated about what I felt was good or bad, to the point where speaking or writing in a condescending tone was my default position. Somewhere along the line, I became agnostic in my relationship toward music. In other words, its all good. Or, an even better way to say it: it’s all respected.
It never ceases to astonish me that a series or pattern of notes, words, and/or beats can create a highly individualized emotional and physical experience. This past year, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone took me exactly to the space that the title promised. You can figure out for yourself if you think it was the best or not. For me, it’s just another reason why I love music. And while I’ve got no trophy to hand out, this will have to serve as my own thank you note for a job well done.
Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images