Lucinda Williams: Little Honey

Finally, Lucinda is in love. Is that a good thing?

Lucinda Williams

Little Honey

Label: Lost Highway
US Release Date: 2008-10-14
UK Release Date: 2008-10-13

Throw on Lucinda Williams’ new album, Little Honey, and the first thing you hear is the disheveled jumble of a false start. As her band, Buick 6, anxiously waits to kick into the debauched swagger that the opening song is built upon, they all simultaneously jump the gun. Guitars and drums race off in different directions, the timing is all off, and the whole thing collapses under its own anticipation. Realizing their error, they all stop, collect themselves, and launch back into the song, titled “Real Love”. This time Buick 6 get it right, and you realize that what initially sounded like a mess is a glorious mess, the kind the Replacements or the Stones might drunkenly stumble into before laying down a bad-ass groove.

And that, to be sure, is a great thing. When Williams lets loose and lets it rock, it’s a glorious, glorious thing. Think, for example, of “Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings” from World Without Tears, a song that would sound perfectly at home on Exile on Main Street. The same holds true for “Real Love”, what with its 4/4 beat, rusted twang, and downright nasty riffage? Yeah, it’s nice. Thirty seconds into Williams’ new album, everything feels right with the universe –- and then she opens her mouth. “I found the love I’ve been looking for,” she sings, “It’s a real love.”

For longtime fans of Williams, this is no doubt good news, but no less worrying. Country music doesn’t exactly lend itself to celebrations of happiness, and that’s its appeal. It’s music for the miserable, for those who had it all for just a moment and then squandered it all away, and Lucinda Williams, damn it, is supposed to be the patron saint of broken hearts. Who else has ever crafted lines so genius as “Did you love me forever / Just for those three days?” Yes, to hear that Lucinda has found love is just a bit unsettling for those who have depended on her tales of loneliness and regret to survive, well, loneliness and regret.

Thankfully, Williams doesn’t let the corniness that often accompanies falling in love seep into her music, and she accomplishes this by letting the music create the mood of the songs rather than the lyrics. If her past albums mixed slow, introspective tracks with the occasional up-tempo rock track, so does Little Honey. Indeed, many of the slow tracks sound like those same tales of loneliness, and it takes a close listen to the lyrics to realize that the songs reveal a happy Williams.

“The Knowing”, for example, is about finally realizing the liberation of being in love, but it’s all slow, bluesy guitar lines and swelling organ. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think Booker T. and the M.G.s were backing Williams. The same holds true for “Tears of Joy”, which features some downright sexy guitar work from Doug Pettibone. If ever a tune were made for slow dancing in the corner of a dive, this is it. Sultry and slithery, it’s one of the finer moments of the album.

And then there are those rock songs, the ones we don’t see as much from Williams. Some of them, such as “Real Love”, are instantly likeable, while others take a few listens to fall under their spell. “Honey Bee” is not a remake of the Tom Petty classic, but it’s just as primal and raunchy. Upon first listen, it’s a head-scratcher, with Williams screaming over clanging guitar. When Pettibone launches into his scorching solos, though, you’re won over. Likewise, “Little Rock Star” takes a while to get used to, but the repeated listens are ultimately rewarded. Featuring backing vocals from Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs and some downright psychedelic production, it’s proof that Williams is open to new ideas.

Unfortunately, however, Little Honey suffers from its share of missteps, which is a shame since Williams could have easily cut three tracks and still had enough songs to form a tighter, more consistent album. Oddly enough, the duet with Elvis Costello, “Jailhouse Tears”, should not have made the cut. Costello is brilliant in many different genres, but his effete, nasal, British whine has never made for convincing country. Yes, if you’re a hipster working backwards from indie rock to country, you might like Costello’s faux-twang, but the track is downright tedious. Lacking in both punch and locomotion, it also recycles every overused motif in country music, from breaking the law to being a drunk to being a “three-time loser”.

Where the album stumbles the most, though, is towards the end, and Williams would have done herself a favor to chop “Plan to Marry” and “It’s a Long Way to the Top” right off the end of the album. The former tries to accomplish too much thematically by first addressing the ills of the world and then turning its attention to marriage, eventually comparing lovers to soldiers. It’s a nice thought –- that the joy of marriage can somehow negate the effects of disease and war –- but it’s both sappy and naïve, especially in the context of a song that meanders without shape. As for “It’s a Long Way to the Top”, it’s to rock and roll what “Jailhouse Tears” is to country, a collection of clichés related to the genre. Here we have a highway, motels, people getting stoned... It’s third-rate Black Crowes, and an artist of Williams’ caliber should have sidestepped it altogether.

Ultimately, though, Little Honey only falters when compared to Williams’ own ridiculous standards. No other artist has so consistently delivered, and that’s largely because Williams normally takes a year or two (if not ten) between albums. Fortunately, her output has increased as she has learned to trust her instincts, and they usually lead her in the right direction. So while there are a few more missteps here than we’re used to seeing from our beloved Lucinda, for the most part, her music has survived that awful, awful curse of falling in love.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

Next Page

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.