A Lucinda Williams album is what you put on when you're feeling raw and need the company of a sad song. After all, she's one of those artists who's been through it all — with a scratchy, full-throated voice to match. The Billie Holiday of alternative country music, you could say.
On her new album, Little Honey, it seems Williams has arrived at a new place. Critics are calling it her first "happy" album, but the singer says it's not so simple.
"I think there's this sense that I'm having a good time," she says. "The band's having a good time."
Finding Her Joy
"There are a couple of songs that deal with sort of finding my joy," Williams says. It's a happiness that's made some fans nervous about her ability to continue to write songs. For her part, she says that's unlikely.
"If anything, I've been writing more," Williams says. "There are always things to write about. It comes from within. Regardless of what's going on around me, I'm going to be writing. There's still plenty to be miserable about. Don't worry about that."
Little Honey features a duet with Elvis Costello called "Jailhouse Tears." The song, which was based on a past relationship, balances the unusual voices of the two singers in a way that Williams didn't expect, but that she says works great.
Williams' own voice has not always been something her songs appropriately revealed. As she perfected her songwriting style, she started to learn how to write songs that complemented her unique vocals.
"As I grew and got more confident, I learned to use my limitations to my advantage," she says. "I just consider myself a late bloomer."
'Tears Of Joy'
After decades of making music, Williams says she's just now achieving success.
"I'm either reaching my peak, or I haven't peaked yet," she says, adding, "I don't feel 55."
This sense of getting close to a peak is echoed in her song "Tears of Joy," which is inspired by singers such as Etta James.
"I love the way it feels singing that style — that old soul, R&B style. I feel good singing it," Williams says.
'Plan To Marry'
'Plan to Marry,' one of the songs written about her relationship with Tom Overby, manages to balance the joy and the sadness. Williams says it's "a joyful song, but it's a dark song also." It sounds so sad and broken; then, in the end, she comes up with a reason to love and even get married.
Williams says the source of all this optimism is her belief that "love is all we have."
"I've often asked myself what pushes us to continue as a human race to continue to fall in love, marry, have children and raise families," she says. "It just gets so disparaging at times. You look at the world, and it just feels like everything is just falling apart."
But somehow, she says, we manage to find a reason to keep going: "There's something in us that pushes us on. We don't give up. The theme is: Love conquers all."