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(Soundbite of song "Reason To Cry")

Ms. LUCINDA WILLIAMS (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) Just to sit and talk the way we used to do...

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Lucinda Williams, she's 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. 55 years old, and with that scratchy, full-throated voice, kind of a Billy Holiday of alternative country music. But on her new album, "Little Honey," it seems Lucinda Williams has arrived at a new place.

(Soundbite of song "Real Love")

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) I found the love I've been looking for. It's a real love. It's a real love. Standing up behind an electric guitar. It's a real love. It's a real love...

SEABROOK: She's a songwriter who never holds back. And, Lucinda Williams, welcome to the show.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Thank you.

SEABROOK: Is it true what the reviewers are saying about this album, that this is your first happy album?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Well, I think - it's not really a yes and no kind of a question. I think it's a more up-tempo kind of album in general. Compared to my other albums, I think there's this sense that I'm having a good time. The band is having a good time. There are a couple of songs that deal with sort of finding my joy. It took me quite a while for me to find my soul mate, Tom, who I've been with for three and a half years now, who I'm engaged to.

SEABROOK: That's Tom Overby. You met him, and then he slowly took over your whole life.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Right. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: He's your manager. He's your producer on the album.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: Uh huh. And it's great, too. That's the thing, I mean, the whole idea of, oh, I'm happy now. And, you know, I've had people even ask me these ridiculous questions like, are you still going to be able to write? Where are the songs going to come from? And if anything, I've been writing as much or more. There are always things to write about. I'll always continue writing because I'm a writer, and that's what I do. So it comes from within.

Regardless of what's going on around me, I'm going to be writing. Whether I'm happy, sad, and there's still plenty to be miserable about. So, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: Don't worry about that.

SEABROOK: Let's talk about one of the songs on the album that has a relationship that's not so compatible, the duet you do with Elvis Costello, "Jailhouse Tears."

Ms. WILLIAMS: That's based on a true story about an abusive relationship I was in at the time before I met Tom.

SEABROOK: Let's listen to a little bit of this.

(Soundbite of song "Jailhouse Tears")

Mr. ELVIS COSTELLO (Singer): (Singing) They say I broke the law. Now, everything's broken down.

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) Babe, I know what I saw. I know you went downtown.

Mr. COSTELLO: (Singing) They locked me up, and you locked me out.

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) You tried to steal my truck, but that's not what this is about...

SEABROOK: What I love about a Lucinda Williams song or album is all about your voice. To me, when there's so much vanilla out there, it's like you're barbecue, and...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Thanks. That's a compliment. Yeah, thank you.

SEABROOK: But your voice is not, you know, perfect in a way that vanilla is perfect.

Ms. WILLIAMS: No, absolutely not. I used to consider that a hindrance. When I was younger, and I was developing my voice, and - that's one of the reasons really, I mean, from the very beginning, I decided I wanted to strengthen myself as a songwriter really - be a really, really good songwriter because I didn't think I was ever going to be a great singer.

But as I grew and got more confident, I just kind of learned to use my limitations to my advantage, and I learned how to write songs for my voice.

SEABROOK: I read somewhere you stopped trying to sing things out of your range, and...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Exactly, yeah. Because when I first started writing, I wasn't sure how to write songs for my own voice, and I would - I just didn't know how to do it yet, I guess. And I was writing songs like "Passionate Kisses" and "The Night's Too Long" and then having trouble singing them because they would go up an octave or something like that in a part of the song, you know?

Like, I remember when Patty Loveless recorded "The Night's Too Long," the reviewers said, Patty Loveless does such a great cover of this Lucinda Williams song, and she's able to hit this particular note in a way that Lucinda Williams never was able to, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILLIAMS: I went, oh, I don't like reading that, but I know I sing better now than I ever have. I mean, I'm either reaching my peak, or I haven't peaked still, I don't know, but I don't feel 55.

(Soundbite of song "Tears of Joy")

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) I'm rude, and I'm restless. I pay the calls. I've been a mess, misguided and lost. But I've been so blessed since our paths have crossed. That's why I'm crying tears of joy...

SEABROOK: "Tears of Joy" sounds like a blues song, but things are looking up, huh?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah. I wrote that about Tom, that - I love singing that song.

(Soundbite of song "Tears of Joy")

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) Little miss playgirl...

SEABROOK: Why do you like singing this song so much?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I love the way it sounds - it feels singing that style, that old kind of soul, R&B style, you know? Like an Etta James kind of song or something. I'm real proud of it.

SEABROOK: I think it's one of the culprits for why the reviewers keep calling this a happy album.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Mm hmm.

SEABROOK: You know, your first happy album.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: I don't know. It's so funny. I mean, three of the songs are written for Tom, about Tom and me, that one, "Little Honey" - I mean, I'm sorry, "Honey Bee" and "Plan to Marry." But "Plan to Marry" is somewhat - I mean, it's a joyful song, but it's a dark song also.

SEABROOK: It is dark. I mean, the song's...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Mm hmm.

SEABROOK: It starts with the sound of you scribbling something down on paper before you...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah. The whole story behind that is that I was putting the song down, just by myself with my guitar, so that the guys in the van could take it home with them, listen to it. The idea of being that we come back in the next day and record it with the band and produce it, you know, do the whole thing with it like we do with every song.

And Chad, one of our guitar players, called our engineer the next day on his way to the studio. He said, I've been driving around listening to this song. He said, it brought me to tears. We need to just leave it alone. It doesn't need anything, and the scribbling you hear really is me still kind of finishing up the last...

(Soundbite of song "Plan to Marry")

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) This is in G.

Ms. WILLIAMS: I was literally finishing writing it. I got what - I don't know. I was changing some word or something, you know, at the last minute.

(Soundbite of song "Plan to Marry")

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) When leaders can't be trusted, when heroes let us down, and innocence lies rusted, frozen beneath the ground. And the destitute isolated. We've all been forgotten, and the fruit trees we planted are withered and rotten. The abuse and magnificent...

SEABROOK: The song sounds so sad and just broken. And then, in the end...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah.

SEABROOK: Comes up with a reason to love.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Exactly. I've often asked myself, you know, what pushes us to continue as a human race or continue to fall in love and marry and have children and raise families. Because you look at the world, and it just feels like everything is just falling apart. You know, like we still have these traditions. We still have these rituals. There's something in us that pushes us on, and, you know, we don't give up.

(Soundbite of song "Plan to Marry")

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) Why, why do we marry? Why do we fall in love? Keep on believing in love...

SEABROOK: Lucinda Williams, it's been a pleasure talking to you.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Thank you. Same here.

(Soundbite of song "Plan to Marry")

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing): Love is a my sword. Love is our weapon. Love is a lesson. And we, we are the paupers. We are the soldiers...

SEABROOK: There is more from Lucinda Williams' latest album, "Little Honey," at nprmusic.org.

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