In which the full moon causes the Author to
channel Creem-era Lester Bangs for no good reason . . .
Deep down within me words move in phrases
Frozen and still ‘til they decide
To melt and drip over the pages
Until that moment they live inside . . .
When my words are hiding between the lines
Then I’m afraid they won’t hear me call
What if they fail me without a sign
What if they hardly surface at all . . .
--Lucinda Williams, "Words "
I think I lost it
Let me know if you come across it
Let me know if I let it fall
Along a back road somewhere
--Lucinda Williams, "I Lost It "
I'm learning how to live
without you in my life
--Lucinda Williams, "Learning How To Live"
There's a handful of recording artists who never disappoint--well, almost never--and Lucinda Williams is long-time a member of that exclusive club. Since her self-titled third album, she's never let me down (the count starts there because I've never warmed to her first two releases; I like my blues shouters with more authenticity than she was able to muster in those early days). Even when the roots contingent of her fan base bitched about West, I appreciated what she was doing and admired how she pushed past the genre stances that had endeared her to fans. Given the polarizing affect of West, the country-rock regrouping of Little Honey, Williams latest release, is its least surprising attribute. In a way, it recalls World Without Tears--a similar retreat into the tried and true after the more experimental Essence. But where the homecoming of World Without Tears left Williams' considerable songwriting talents intact, she arrives at Little Honey without the baggage that has provided inspiration for her best work.
Reviews needn't be structured like murder mysteries, so let's cut to the chase: There's a fine EP buried in Little Honey. But unfortunately there's also that other 40 minutes of music. The songs neatly fall into four categories: Lucinda In Love, Lucinda Dispensing Advice To Other Pop Stars, Lucinda Classics Old and New, and, well, a Lucinda/Elvis Costello comedy routine. The problem is that most of the new material is the stuff of B-sides and bonus tracks. And trust me, it almost physically hurts to admit this . . .
The quality of the Lucinda In Love material suggests that Paul McCartney was right all those years ago--it's a world filled with love songs that are indisputably silly. And while I'm pleased Lucinda is personally happy these days, there's good reason why great art rarely (if ever) flows from Being Happy. Happy has few nuances, which is a polite way of saying Happy is one-dimensional, which is also another way of saying that Happy is conflict-free, which is yet another way of saying Happy lacks drama, which is bad news if you're trying to write four-minute lyrical narratives. No conflict, no narrative--and I have no patience with songs that don't evolve across their verses and recontextualized choruses.