Lucinda Williams Song Premiere: Hear a Cover of JJ Cale's ‘Magnolia’ From Her New Double Album

Michael Wilson
Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams has raised some eyebrows by coming up with her first-ever double album, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, due Sept. 30. The kicker? There's more where that came from.

"We recorded enough stuff for three albums, actually," Williams tells Billboard. "They weren't all my songs. We cut a JJ Cale song, 'Blond Hair and Blue Eyes.' We recorded Bruce Springsteen's 'Factory.' There's a lot of tracks that were done with Bill Frisell. Then I had some older songs that hadn't been put on anything yet. So it was a combination of things."

Listen to a nearly 10-minute cover of JJ Cale’s “Magnolia” from Williams’ forthcoming double album, premiering on Billboard.com:

The result is "the next album that comes out, the one that's not quite ready yet but we pretty much know what's going to be on it,” Williams says. It will include a 15-minute gospel/blues/reggae treatment of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "Saving Grace,” recorded in Los Angeles with musicians from a Rastafarian church.

There's no timetable for that album's release, but Williams has plenty to focus on with the 20-track Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. The prolific period, she says, began after touring to support 2011's Blessed and was bolstered by having writing opportunities for other projects that helped spur her production.

"I was asked to do different projects where I had to come up with a song," Williams recalls. "For instance, that song 'Everything Changes But the Truth,' I wrote that for a compilation album of songs that were inspired by The Lone Ranger movie, so I came up with that fairly quickly. It was kind of a good exercise, and a lot of times that can spur other things. We started recording in October of last year and didn't really think about it. We just kept going, and we suddenly got all these great tracks and realized we're not going to narrow this down to one album."

The set kicks off and gets its title from "Compassion," Williams' first adaptation of a poem by her father Miller Williams, which she hopes will lead to more collaborations between them.

"My dad was always adamant about the differentiation between poetry and songs," Williams says. "In the past I'd send him a couple of things that I said, 'Maybe this might be a poem,' and he said, 'Honey, I think this wants to be a song.' I really want to look at some of his other poems and see if I can do that again."

Meanwhile, the closing track of Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, a nearly 10-minute version of Cale's "Magnolia" (listen above), is one of Williams' most ambitious arrangements.

"That song was part of my repertoire back in the ’70s," says Williams, who co-produced the album with her husband, Tom Overby, and Greg Leisz. Other musical contributions came from Frisell, Tony Joe White, Ian McLagan, drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher (from Elvis Costello's Imposters), Jakob Dylan and others.

"When we went in (to record), he had passed away not too long before and was kind of on people's minds, so we decided to do it. Everything was cut live, the basic tracks with everyone in there together, and we didn't sit down and arrange things ahead of time or anything like that. A lot of times I would just start the song off and the guys would fall in and we'd do two or three stabs at it. So ('Magnolia') was just completely spontaneous. We were going for the feel of it, and the vibe. When you're working with great musicians like that, you don't really have to tell them much of anything."

Williams will perform at the Way Over Yonder festival on Sept. 26 in Santa Monica, Calif., and at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass on Oct. 3 in San Francisco. A full-scale tour will start in late October and stretch into the new year, with plans to head to Europe and other territories after that.