Review : Lucinda Williams - Little Honey
PastemagazineLucinda Williams has a great laugh—it’s a joyful sound to hear on the aptly titled Little Honey, the 10th album in her three-decade career. A sweet sense of renewal imbues Williams’ latest work, which encompasses all the elements of her eclectic catalog—from her stark early sets Ramblin’ (1979) and Happy Woman Blues (1980) to her 1988 self-titled breakthrough to last year’s textural West, co-produced with Hal Willner (Lou Reed, Bill Frisell). But not since her masterpiece, 1998’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, has Williams dug so deep and come up with an album that brims with such varied, impeccable writing. Aided by loose-limbed playing from her band Buick 6, some notable party guests, and a voice full of everything from righteous gusto to hard-won wisdom, Little Honey is Lucinda Williams at her best.
A sharp contrast to the studied tapestry of sound and embittered lyrics of West, Little Honey finds Williams in celebratory mode, with raucous rock, bluesy testimonies and tongue-in-cheek twang. Her brooding introspection—found here on a handful of moody tone poems and mournful ballads—adds depth to the proceedings. A decade ago, the Louisiana-born Williams proffered that her best work was borne of emotional crises and the ensuing solitude—exactly the circumstances surrounding West, which examined a harrowing breakup and the devastating loss of her mother. But Little Honey proves that philosophy wrong: This time out, Williams has found “Real Love,” the barnburner that kicks off the album, and she sings “Tears Of Joy,” a stunning Chicago-meets-Texas blues. On both tracks, her chansons d’amour are abetted by the straight-ahead backing of her touring group: longtime (for Williams) guitarist Doug Pettibone, joined by axman Chet Lyster, bassist David Sutton, and drummer Butch Norton, who give the album its punch.
The direct, autobiographical narrative “Tears of Joy” could have been written by Memphis Minnie: “Uprooted and restless, I paid the cost / I’ve been a mess, misguided and lost / But I’ve been so blessed since our paths have crossed / That’s why I’m crying tears of joy.” Williams gets straight to the heart of the matter with some of her strongest vocals ever. Likewise, on the spare “Heaven Blues”—on which she pays tribute to the Delta, recalling Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was The Ground”—Williams has been to hell and back and is ready to make her own heaven. Norton’s inventive percussion (including a washing machine and a manhole cover) is the perfect rhythmic backing to Williams’ crossroads declaration....full text
AvclubLike Bruce Springsteen's Born In The U.S.A., Lucinda Williams' Car Wheels On A Gravel Road was that rare album that perfectly summed up everything an artist stood for while crafting songs loaded with hook after hook. And like Springsteen after Born, it left Williams nowhere to go but sideways. Since Wheels' 1998 release, Williams has gone quiet (Essence), entrenched herself in the blues (World Without Tears), and plunged into miserablism (West), creating sustained moods that wore out their welcomes over the length of an album.
That's isn't a problem for Little Honey, a winningly eclectic set that finds Williams thinking about pleasing the crowd again while seemingly playing whatever fits her mood. One of several songs to feature sweet harmonies from Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, the album-opening "Real Love" practically challenges listeners not to turn up the volume. It's all catchy rock grooves and joyous explosion, anchored around the guitar of Williams regular Doug Pettibone. The honky-tonk-friendly "Circles And X's," written in 1985, follows, and from there, the album rolls through ballad portraiture ("Little Rock Star"), a delicate second-chance lament ("If Wishes Were Horses"), and an AC/DC cover. Why? Why not? Williams sounds like she's enjoying herself, never more so than on the losers-in-love Elvis Costello duet "Jailhouse Tears," and the mood becomes infectious. Williams spent much of this decade proving she can branch out, but here she's staged something even more impressive: a pleasing homecoming....full text
CourantGreat art comes from tortured artists, or so goes the standard trope applied to sad sacks who write beautiful songs or paint compelling pictures.
It's just not true for Lucinda Williams, however. Her art suffered in direct proportion to her own suffering on most of the albums she has released this decade. Thankfully, the Louisiana-born singer and songwriter seems to have shaken her deepest blues on her latest.
"Little Honey" (Lost Highway) is easily Williams' least depressing album in years, which doesn't sound like much of a compliment until you consider that she sounds downright happy on some of these tunes for the first time in, well, maybe ever. And when she slips into a downcast mood, it's tempered by the wistful romanticism -- that radiant spark suggesting that one day everything will make sense -- that defines her best work.
She lost that spark for a while. If 2003's "World Without Tears" was tough on the heart, then Williams' 2007 follow-up "West" was her emotional nadir. The album deals with the death of her mother and a tumultuous break-up, and her grief overwhelms her considerable gifts as a songwriter....full text
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