When Lucinda Williams finished her 2007 album West, she left the project with an unfamiliar feeling as a songwriter. One might call it security.
"When we got done with West, we knew we had another record ready," she says. "We knew we had enough songs for another record, and that was a good feeling. That's the first time that's ever happened."
Up to this point, it's been a Williams tradition to have just enough songs to make up a record. But these days, her output has been downright prolific. The rush of creativity has coincided with a period of newfound contentment in both her career and her personal life.
The singer/songwriter is happily married to Tom Overby, a former record executive who is now her manager and who co-produced Little Honey with Eric Liljestrand. As for her career, Williams is in solid shape. Her tours are doing well, despite the slow economy. She has a backing band, Buick 6, that she loves and thinks is getting better all the time. As a songwriter, she has found new doors opening for the kinds of topics she can cover in her songs. She feels freer than ever to explore whatever stylistic inspiration strikes her.
Over a career that now stretches back three decades, Williams has written darkly-hued songs about love, loss, and personal turmoil. But on the forthcoming album Little Honey (due next month), she has songs like "Honey Bee," "Tears of Joy," and "Real Love" that clearly relate to her romantic bliss.
"I feel like the songwriting possibilities are endless really, and I feel like I really kind of broke, kind of graduated, kind of am now in another phase where I can start to explore different subjects," Williams says.
In reality, Williams has gradually been busting through a number of creative barriers throughout this decade. She entered the new century coming off a 1998 album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, which had truly put Williams on the map as one of the best songwriters and singers in all of rock and country.
The disc was not only her most popular effort to date, but it earned her the first of her three Grammys, winning for contemporary folk album of the year.
The success of Car Wheels, though, left Williams wondering how she could make another album that would live up to it. She decided there was no point in worrying about how the next album would be viewed, and she treated her next one, 2001's Essence, as an opportunity to expand on the alternative country/rock she had established on earlier albums.
With Little Honey, Williams combines the fresh and familiar. She ventures into new stylistic territory with songs like "Rarity," an expansive, ambient ballad with lovely touches of horn, and "Little Rock Star," a sweet lament that boasts an ear-grabbing blend of power-pop guitar riffs and wooshing psychedelic effects.
But Williams also went back into her own archives and dusted off a pair of songs that dated back to the mid-1980s.
She says the new collection reminds her at some points of her self-titled 1988 album on Rough Trade Records (which included "Passionate Kisses," a song that Mary Chapin Carpenter later recorded and turned into a hit single, and "Changed the Locks," which was covered by Tom Petty).
"I feel like I've kind of come full circle," Williams says. "I started in this one place. I went in a big circle and now I'm back. I've come back home again. But at the same time, this album also offers up brand new material, like 'Little Rock Star,' so you can kind of see how far I've progressed as a songwriter."