Lucinda Williams, ‘Little Honey’ (Lost Highway)
The first thing Lucinda Williams announces on her ninth studio album is that she found the love she was looking for standing behind an electric guitar. Twelve songs later, she signs off with a bit of wisdom from the late Australian philosopher Bon Scott: “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll.” The message? After chilling (and bumming) out on last year’s mortality-fixated West, which she said was inspired by the electronic blues of Thievery Corporation and Kruder & Dorfmeister, Williams goes back to the roots-rock well and takes a long, satisfying swig. The result is her finest record since Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, the decade-old masterpiece by which her career will always be judged.
Little Honey is a retrenchment, but it isn’t narrowly focused: “Real Love” and “Honey Bee” are rowdy bar-band rave-ups; “Knowing” and “Rarity” have gorgeous vintage-soul horn arrangements; “Well Well Well” jumps with electric bluegrass rhythms. Over the scrappy juke-joint groove of “Jailhouse Tears,” Williams trades soured lover’s accusations with Elvis Costello. What unites the songs is the restored hope in Williams’ singing, whether she’s describing her engagement to Little Honey coproducer Tom Overby in “Tears of Joy” or the purity of an unnamed musician’s talent in “Rarity.” Amid all this emotional renewal, even the closing AC/DC cover sounds pretty profound.