Lucinda Williams: Little Honey

By: Dennis Cook

There’s long been something irrevocably jagged about Lucinda Williams. Even in her quietest moments there’s a rough edge, a turn of phrase that cuts you to the quick or a hardness in how she holds a phrase, emotions torn loose, things coming hard when they come at all. So, the unguarded, wholly exuberant charge of Little Honey (released October 14 on Lost Highway) comes as a bit of a surprise. Oh, Williams has been moving this way for a spell but the opening trio – “Real Love,” “Circles and X’s” and “Tears of Joy” – is downright sentimental, tender and refreshingly happy. Anchored to some of the truest electric blues of her career (think Buddy Guy sung with fine sandpaper femininity), Little Honey is the sweetest, least cynical record of Williams’ long career.

Depending on why you dig Williams, this may or may not be a good thing. If her unvarnished dissections of human feelings and the wrongs we do one another are why you’re onboard then Honey may hit you like a Hallmark card on a bad day. But, if you can muster a little compassion for this long running road dog then you may find this one of her most together, fully fleshed sets. It seems surly, Grinch-y even, to begrudge another person happiness but it’s also hard not to miss Williams’ unerring lyrical-surgeon’s slice, a blade that digs out the disease and blackness we carry in the meat of us. That said, Williams and her band, Buick 6 (nice Dylan reference) play their hinies off. Pump the volume on the title cut and rare is the cat who won’t be swept up in Doug Pettibone and Chet Lyster‘s snarling electric guitars and Williams’ hymn to being stung by love. And the soreness and ache inherent to bee stings (and love) resides in the skin of this thing. As seemingly sugary as this album first seems there’s plenty of raised bumps and scars when you get to properly running your hands over things. That’s perhaps Williams’ greatest gift as a songwriter, her skillful turn of phrase that rarely jumps up and demands attention. The good subtleties are there if you wanna sit a spell with these tunes but it’s also damn fine music to crank in the background, too.

The thorns hiding inside this bouquet include a prison/lovers lament duet with Elvis Costello (“Jailhouse Tears”), a prayer for forgiveness that works for both intimates and the Lord (“If Wishes Were Horses”) and a frisky cover of AC/DC’s “It’s A Long Way To The Top.” Instead of Williams’ typical dark insights, a kind of collective wisdom about our shared emotional underbelly, we find in this set a songwriter finally ready to accept love and loving as credible, visceral realities worth celebrating. Williams has shed a lot of tears and it’s kinda nice that they’re happy ones this time around.

Enjoy Williams and her boys doing “Real Love” on Letterman in October.

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