We’ve all sung along to “Layla,” struggled with the tragedy of “American Girl,“ and driven the blacktop that is “Thunder Road.“ What makes the women in these songs so important? What makes them timeless? Just like a sailor names his boat a she, or a vintage, weathered guitar has her own story, it’s getting down to the core of what’s real. Nobody’s more in touch with their core than a woman; not even the man who’s trying to understand her. We never truly understand anything; we’re always striving for more. That’s especially true about women.
So why is rock ‘n roll such a man’s playground? Why is it that we let so many mediocre yahoos get away with so little to say? Is it because the majority of women in music let their sexuality guide them as to the direction of their album or career path? The ones who make it last, the ones who actually get what this passion is about, are the ones who have learned to guide their sexuality into the music and control it; these are the few who understand the necessary touch. I’m talking about the women who have us men still chasing around after them on the playground all day. I’m talking about musicians like Chrissie Hynde, Bonnie Raitt, and, of course, Lucinda Williams.
While not an album to even compare to the familiarity of Essence or Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, the unique beauty of Little Honey is that it plays like a relationship, both personal and professional, with its energy and emotion. Eric Liljestrand’s and Tom Overby’s crisp production captures Lucinda’s gravel rock interaction with the stellar Buick 6 with an unexpectedly relaxed outtakes feel. By adding guest musicians such as Mathew Sweet, Susanna Hoffs, Jim Lauderdale, and Charlie Louvin, this relaxation is soon elevated to a celebrated studio album.
The opener, “Real Love,” begins with some studio fumbling before righting itself swiftly into a shiny rock number. The excitement of this opener is like the beginning of a relationship – full of certainty and optimism. That initial optimism soon turns into the realism of “Tears of Joy” where Lucinda confesses over the riddling blues guitar
In my own little world since I was sixteen/
Little miss playgirl making the scene/
Then you took this girl and you made her your queen/
That’s why I’m crying tears of joy.
Always one to connect with her audience by relaying the inner truth and placing it to a guitar riff, the album’s relationship soon heats up with the animalist sexual attraction of “Honey Bee;“ this scorcher is rendered lyrically in the same hidden tongue-in-cheek manner of the Stones classic “Brown Sugar.” Again, Buick 6 tears into this number as Ms. Williams wipes the collective sweat from her lyrics. It’s an example of the chances taken and the independence that sets her apart from the crowd. As the album spins, the truth continues to unwind that every moment in a relationship can’t be fueled with excitement and passion. “If Wishes Were Horses” is a piano led ballad where Lucinda candidly admits,
I was scared of standing on the edge/
Of darkness looking in/
I hurt you bad and now I wish/
We could begin again.
Where “Knowing” captures that moment of beauty when the relationship clicks with another for the first time, “Plan to Marry” continues the “one take” approach as Lucinda confesses that one moment in a relationship which we must figure out entirely on our own. It’s the sole number on the album when no other member of the band is present – just an honest acoustic guitar.
While the album does have its uneven moments, every relationship does, and throughout the lengthy 13 tracks, Lucinda is still wearing her leather jacket. This couldn’t be more evident than in the cover of the ‘76 AC/DC classic, “It’s a Long Way to the Top.” Whether this roots take is a statement to the music industry of Lucinda’s endurance, a statement of the hard work that must be put into a relationship, or just a badass, soulful take on a rock ‘n’ roll statement, Ms. Williams has filled in most of the blanks – why not leave us guessing some?
Little Honey is out now on Lost Highway.