Lucinda Williams’s 11th studio album opens with its most solemn song, a threadbare proverb called “Compassion.” Her voice is cracked beyond repair, the acoustic guitar is spare, the tempo crawls, and the message is simple: Extend compassion to everyone you meet, because “you do not know what wars are going on/ Down there where the spirit meets the bone.”
Williams adapted the song from a poem by her father, Miller Williams, and it gives “Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone” its emotional compass if not its melodic direction. The rest of this double album, Williams’s first, settles into a deep groove that suggests the singer-songwriter was fired up and couldn’t — and shouldn’t — whittle her latest to a standard 10 songs.
There are 20 of them here, ranging from pointed social commentaries (“West Memphis,” “East Side of Town”) and juke-joint blues stomps (“Something Wicked This Way Comes”) to brittle rockers (“Protection,” “Foolishness”) and last-call country tearjerkers (“It’s Gonna Rain,” featuring a luminous backing vocal from Jakob Dylan).
With its worldly perspective, particularly on “Temporary Nature (of Any Precious Thing),” this new album feels like an obvious continuation of its predecessor, “Blessed.” On that 2011 album, Williams turned her attention beyond her inner turmoil and to the suffering of others.
Her latest draws to a close with a ruminative take on J.J. Cale’s “Magnolia,” creeping toward 10 minutes and breaking your heart with each passing second. (Out Tuesday)
Lucinda Williams performs at the Orpheum Theater on Nov. 19.