John Metzger's #6 album for 2008
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2008, Volume 15, #12
Written by John Metzger
Tue December 9, 2008, 06:30 AM CST
After years of toiling in relative obscurity, Lucinda Williams broke through in a big way with what is now considered her alt-country classic Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Since then, however, she has been exploring textures that are subtler and more atmospheric, while her lyrics have turned darker, sadder, and angrier. As she moved from Essence to World without Tears to last yearís West, her mood faded from blue to black. On the latter effort in particular, Williams intertwined reflections upon her motherís death with her thoughts regarding the collapse of a long-standing relationship, baring her soul amidst music that often pressed against her lyrics with a forcefulness that was crushingly claustrophobic. Nevertheless, in the final moments of West ó Words and the setís title track ó Williams provided an indication that she was, perhaps, on the verge of escaping from the bleak desperation that had engulfed her.
In many ways, Williamsí latest offering Little Honey is Westís sequel. In fact, the endeavorsí songs are so interdependent that the new outing easily could have served as its predecessorís second act. Not surprisingly, the same spree of writing produced the bulk of the material for both efforts, though the ambiences of the collections are as dramatically different as night is from day. Where West was devoid of light, Little Honey is filled with it. Although there are moments when Williams looks back on the heartbreak and loss she so dutifully outlined on West, the tone she now takes is one that finds optimism and hope instead of rampant devastation. On Jailhouse Tears, for example, her anger at an old, bad-news boyfriend remains intact, but the way in which she and Elvis Costello trade their barbed-wire snipes comes across as a series of playful taunts. Elsewhere on Heaven Blues, she delves into the wreckage of her motherís passing and finds her own salvation.
The reason for Williamsí altered state of being ó which might take a few folks by surprise, especially in the wake of West ó is that, as her world was collapsing around her, she found a new companion. Although her initial hesitation to fall in love again trickles through Little Honeyís core, her giddiness over the blossoming relationship is what ultimately drives the endeavor. Williams twists the bluegrass-imbued heart of Well Well Well ó which features Charlie Louvin and Jim Lauderdale on backing vocals ó into a Stones-y romp, and taking a page from B.B. King, she turns the slow, churning blues of Tears of Joy into a comforting celebration.
As always with Williamsí endeavors, thereís more to Little Honey than initially meets the eye. The other theme that filters through the set is a running commentary on her artistic pursuits and their place within the music industry. Little Rock Star and Rarity are cautionary tales that outline the pitfalls of a rock ínĎ roll lifestyle in the same fashion that If Wishes Were Horses and Circles and Xís trace the shadowy fears that come hand-in-hand with a budding romance. Even so, the entire album is framed by its opening and closing statements: Real Love is a power pop tune featuring Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs on which Williams rediscovers her reason for being, and a cover of AC/DCís Itís a Long Way to the Top drives home the point that one must continue to play the game in order to have any chance of winning.
With Little Honey, Williams has managed, in many ways, to bring her career full-circle. Every style she has ever attempted to incorporate into her music is present within the setís architecture. In the process, she also has succeeded in opening a few new doors for herself. Thirty years and nine albums after issuing her debut, Williams is enthusiastic about her ability to start fresh, which is precisely what Little Honey is all about.
Of Further Interest...
Little Honey is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box