NPR logo

Jailhouse Tears

  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Lucinda Williams: Love Gone Horribly Wrong

Lucinda Williams: Love Gone Horribly Wrong

Jailhouse Tears

  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Friday's Pick

  • Song: "Jailhouse Tears"
  • Artist: Lucinda Williams featuring Elvis Costello
  • CD: Little Honey
  • Genre: Folk-Rock

In Lucinda Williams' "Jailhouse Tears," Elvis Costello shows up to tell his side of the story. courtesy of Lucinda Williams hide caption

toggle caption courtesy of Lucinda Williams

During a stellar career in which she's straddled the boundary between rock and country, Lucinda Williams has often sung about love gone wrong. That's certainly the case in "Jailhouse Tears," from Williams' new Little Honey, only the bad-love scenario here comes with a twist: Her imperfect man, played by Elvis Costello, gets to answer back in the song. The result is Williams' highly likable take on a classic country form: the he-said/she-said duet.

"Not all my songs are about ex-boyfriends," Williams once said. Let's hope that's the case with "Jailhouse Tears." In it, Costello plays a lover with an apparent drug problem who gets tossed in the clink yet again — possibly for trying to steal Williams' truck, which, besides drug use, is the only arrestable offense the song mentions. Costello protests — "Look at me, I'm clean now" — but Williams isn't having it: "You're so full of s—-," she sings, before launching into a chorus that implies she's done with this relationship after trying to make it work for years.

"Jailhouse Tears" is clearly a sad song, but the tone isn't terribly dark; as a document of substance-abuser malfeasance, it's more Cops than Intervention. The appeal, beyond the wistfully catchy tune, is hearing two very distinct singers — both great, neither wielding traditionally pretty voices — as they trade lines. Williams' typically twangy sandpaper croon blends weariness and anger, while Costello exploits the catch in his voice to sound a little pathetic, which is probably the point.

Listen to yesterday's Song of the Day, and subscribe to the Song of the Day newsletter.

Purchase Featured Music

Little Honey

Purchase Music

Buy Featured Music

Little Honey
Lucinda Williams
Lost Highway

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

We no longer support commenting on stories, but you can find us every day on Facebook, Twitter, email, and many other platforms. Learn more or contact us.