Lucinda Rocks us Hard

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Lucinda Williams has always been adept at painting landscapes of the soul, illuminating the spirit’s shadowy nooks and shimmering crannies — but she’s never captured the sun breaking through the clouds as purely as on her new Lost Highway release, Little Honey.

“I’m in a different phase of my life, so there are more happy moments on this album,” the singer-songwriter says of her ninth studio set. “ ‘Darkly introspective,’ is one phrase people have used to describe a lot of my songs. There are moody songs, but I’m looking outside myself a little bit more. These aren’t ‘boy meets girl, boy leaves girl, girl gets bummed out’ songs — there’s a lot more than that going on.”

Williams wastes no time signaling that mood change, leading into Little Honey’s opener, “Real Love” with a false start riff that’s the six-string equivalent of a friendly wink – then sidling into the tune’s hard-rocking vibe with a sensual slink that underscores the passion of finding exactly what that title indicates. The bluesy physicality of that tune is echoed in several of Little Honey’s tracks, from the charmingly chugging “Honeybee” to the gorgeous melodies of “If Wishes Were Horses”.

“I’m stepping out and writing about things other than unrequited love. But because that’s not part of my experience anymore,” she explains, “doesn’t mean I’m going to stop being a songwriter. There are plenty of other important things to write about — the state of the world, for one thing — I don’t buy into the myth that because you get to a certain level of contentment, you have to throw in the towel.”

While Little Honey certainly has plenty to move the hips, Williams doesn’t neglect her uncanny ability to do the same to the heart. The sparse delta delivery she affords “Heaven Blues” — a keening consideration of what might await on the other side – hits home thanks to its arresting blend of hope and vexation, while the epic “Rarity” rides soft waves of brass (instrumentation never before heard on one of her discs).

“The one thing the songs have in common is directness,” she says. “The beauty of country and blues is their simplicity, it’s about getting things across in a really direct way. I’ve spent a while stretching out and going in different directions, which is my nature. But I feel that I can always embrace that original simplicity again — that’s why I went back to record ‘Circles and Xs,’ which I actually wrote back in 1985.”

Over the course of a recording career that’s now in its fourth decade, the Louisiana-born singer has navigated terrain as varied as the dust-bowl starkness of her 1978 debut Ramblin’ (recorded on the fly with a mere 250 dollar budget behind her) and the stately elegance of last year’s West (which Vanity Fair called “the record of a lifetime”). Between those signposts, Lucinda Williams established a reputation as one of rock’s most uncompromising and consistently fascinating writers and performers, earning kudos from artists as diverse as Mary-Chapin Carpenter (who helped win Williams a Grammy with her recording of “Passionate Kisses”) and Elvis Costello (who joins her for a duet on the Little Honey mini-drama “Jailhouse Tears”).

Williams learned the importance of professional integrity around the same time most kids are learning their ABCs, thanks in a large part to her award-winning poet father Miller Williams — who invested her with a “culturally rich, but economically poor” upbringing where artistic expression was of primary importance. Later, she’d hone her vision playing hardscrabble clubs around her adopted home state of Texas, absorbing the influence of sources as varied as Bob Dylan and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

“I sometimes say I just started out singing folk songs acoustically by default,” she recalls. “Even when I was playing open mic nights by myself, I’d be sitting up on stage with my Martin guitar doing ‘Angel’ by Jimi Hendrix or ‘Politician’ by Cream alongside Robert Johnson and Memphis Minnie songs. It never occurred to me to pick just one style.”

She’s never settled for any sort of pigeonholing, entering the ‘90s with the slow-burning Sweet Old World — a disc that, as much as any release, helped place the Americana movement at the forefront of listeners’ minds — and cementing her own spot in the cultural lexicon with 1998’s rough-hewn masterpiece Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.

The latter disc earned Williams her first Grammy as a performer, but rather than try to capture the same lightning in a bottle a second time, she stretched her boundaries on 2001’s Essence, an album rife with both cerebral interludes and soul-stirring stomps. In recent times, Williams has broadened her palette even further through frequent collaborations with kindred spirits — acts as varied as The North Mississippi All-Stars and Flogging Molly — who share her uncommon sense of non-revivalist traditionalism.

Little Honey continues that ongoing forward quest, mixing country, R & B and blues-rock elements with adventurous aplomb. The disc gets an added octane boost from the powerful chemistry between the musicians, primarily drawn from Williams’ latest road band (now collectively known as Buick 6) — includes bassist David Sutton, Eels veterans Butch Norton and Chet Lyster as well as longtime collaborator Doug Pettibone.

Williams augments that core unit with a passel of like-minded folks spanning a huge chunk of the musical spectrum, from octogenarian singing legend Charlie Louvin to power-pop vets Susannah Hoffs and Matthew Sweet, the latter of whom helped arrange the Spector-tinged “Little Rock Star” — applying studio skills that prompted Williams to dub him “this generation’s Brian Wilson.”

“I feel that this is the most eclectic record I’ve ever done, and I’ve always been known for being eclectic,” she says. “ For this album, I was comfortable just letting the songs flow, and not worried about being so serious and heavy and having to top myself — and I think that shows.”

She needn’t have worried for a minute because, with Little Honey, Lucinda Williams has indeed topped herself again.

Stream tracks from the new album Little Honey

Lucinda video about her latest album- interviews, music and more

Also check out Muzzle of Bees coverage

with special guests BUICK 6 Saturday, October 25, 8pm Orpheum Theatre 608.255.0901 $30 — all ages BUY TICKETS NOW ! Available at the Orpheum Box Office, all Ticketmaster outlets, charge by phone at 608.255.4646 ( $1.00 per ticket to benefit local non-profit )

This Week’s Shows- All You’ll Need

Need a break but lamenting the price of gas and the tumbling economy?  No need to leave town- experience the world through your local music venues.  This week in Madison offers up country, bluegrass, jam band, acoustic, americana, ska, reggae ,pop-punk, indie, folk, hip-hop, alternative, and surf from all reaches of the world.  Feel better?  Thought so.

Friday, October 17

YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND

Genre: Country, Bluegrass, Jam Band

“With little radio support, Yonder Mountain has become one of the fastest rising touring bands in the country, its fanbase having ballooned over the past five years through steady gigging and high-profile festival sets, all of which are full of improv and none of which feature the same set list.” -yondermountain.com

Similar to: The String Cheese Incident, Railroad Earth, Phish, Old Crow Medicine Show

9:00pm @ Orpheum Theatre  (608.255.6005)   Tickets $25 adv $30 dos — all ages

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Saturday, October 18
An Evening with PERT ‘ NEAR SANDSTONE 

Genre:  Acoustic, Americana, Bluegrass

“They call themselves a ‘new-timey string band,’ but if you see them in action you would say they’re a steamroller of energy. Pert’ Near Sandstone plays bluegrass, both original and traditional, but they bring the old music to a young audience with their enthusiasm, tight harmonies and class.” -Dale Connelly and Jim Ed Poole, Minnesota Public Radio

Similar to: Twin-A, Will Bernard, The Goondocks

9:30pm @ Cafe Montmartre  (608.255.5900) $8 – 21+
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Sunday, October 19
SLIGHTLY STOOPID 

Genre: Ska, Reggae, Pop-Punk

Similar to: 311, Sublime, Fishbone

and B FOUNDATION with OUTLAW NATION  8:00 pm @ Barrymore Theatre (608.241.8864) $20 adv $25 dos – all ages
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JENNIFER O’CONNOR 

Genre:  Indie, Folk

“Over the past 6 years, Jennifer’s gotten scary good at this sort of thing, so much so that most other contenders for the hypothetical Nobel prize for Witty Pop Songs W/ Heart are either former members of this label’s roster (we’re thinking Manning/Phair/Daniel but if you wanna nominate someone more contemporary, please go right ahead) or they’ve already been embalmed in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.” -highroadtouring.com

Similar to: Elliott Smith,, Kathleen Edwards, Liz Phair, Kimya Dawson

with PATCHWORK 9:00pm @ Cafe Montmartre (608.255.5900)  $8 adv, $8 dos – 21+
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Monday, October 20
MURS 

Genre: Rap, Hip-Hop

“He may not have either the Democratic or Republican nomination, but California indie-hip-hop mainstay Murs (an acronym for “Making Underground Raw Shit”) is throwing his hat into the election ring with his seventh solo album and major-label debut, Murs For President, out tomorrow on Warner Bros. Murs For President finds the underground-rapper-gone-big-time retaining his verbose and engaging flow while sticking to the soulful, jazzy beats that have marked his best records, notably 2004’s Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition.” – SPIN

Similar to: Aesop Rock, Atmosphere. Brother Ali

with KIDZ IN THE HALL  9pm @ High Noon Saloon (608.268.1122)  $14 adv $16 dos – 18+
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MISSY HIGGINS

Genre: Pop, Alternative, Rock

“It wasn’t just that Missy Higgins played piano, or that she was barefoot. It was that she was, in her approach, doing what [Carole] King did in the 1970s: shunting aside any notions of how she ‘should’ look or what she “should” sound like, and focusing instead on strong melodies and earnest lyrics.” – Jon Gilbertson, JS Online

Similar to: Katie Melua, Norah Jones, Ingrid Michaelson, Kate Nash

with special guest JOSHUA RADIN 8:00pm @ Majestic Theatre (608.255.0901)  $16 – $23 – all ages
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Tuesday, October 21

THE EXPENDABLES 

Genre: Rock, Reggae, Surf

“Anyone who’s ever been to an Expendables show knows what Weers is getting at. To say that the band goes all out is a severe understatement. By the end of every performance, the band appears physically deflated–drenched in sweat, hoarse and half-drunk. But that’s the Expendables: balls to the wall, no exceptions.” -Garrett Wheeler, metrosatacruz.com

Similar to: The Aggrolites, Sublime, Pepper

with special guests OPM and REBULATION  8:00pm @ The Annex  (608.256.7750)  $12 adv $14 dos – 18+
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