Lucinda Williams' new album, "Little Honey," is a major departure from her previous album. Overall, it might be called a "feel-good" disc.
"It was time to feel good," says Williams with a laugh. "It was kinda, partly, coincidental. I don't ever sit down and say, 'OK, I'm going to make a feel-good album.' It just sort of moved in that direction."
Williams is definitely due.
Her last album, "West," was produced just after the end of a bad relationship and the death of Williams' mother.
"It was a double whammy," she says in a call from her home in California, which she shares with her fiancee and manager Tom Overby. "I had been in a relationship with a one-time drug abuser. He was sober when I met him and fell off the wagon and started using again and ended having to go to rehab. This was happening at the same time my mother died. I was out on the road and I couldn't be with her in the hospital, so I struggled with that guilt. Then having to deal with him and all that stuff. Then after I ended that relationship I was sort of in this void. That's when I went through this contemptuous little affair, which a lot of those songs were written about, so I was going through some difficult stuff. Then Tom and I got together and things began smoothing out. But I still had to get these songs out so I could move on."
Williams has made a career of writing songs that are deep and personal, whether writing about love, sex, remorse, grief or even happiness. The cult around her art began in 1988 with the release of her self-titled album (her third, overall), which included the song "Passionate Kisses." The song later became a hit for Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Williams' album became a valuable collector's item after going out of print shortly after its release. Williams' reputation continued to grow with the disc "Sweet Old World" (1992), and in 1998 her album "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" brought her commercial success as well.
Williams says she's never written a song that was so personal that she didn't want it to be heard.
"For me (the challenge is) how to craft the song in such a way that it doesn't sound too self-indulgent," she says. "I don't want people to feel too uncomfortable, but, for me, art is about self-expression first and foremost. It starts there. Then the craft comes into how to I get it from inside of myself to other people."
Williams says that many of the songs on "Little Honey" actually date from when she was recording "West," but they didn't fit on that darker disc. Three others are at least 20 years old.
"I listened to Laura Cantrell's album where she did this song of mine called 'Letters,' " says Williams. "That just blew my mind because she'd picked it up off of an old tape of demos I had. That song goes back 30, 35 years ago. I never thought it would see the light of day. So I thought, 'Maybe I ought to go back and look at some of these old songs and see if I can do something with them.' "
Overby suggested Williams cover the AC/DC song "Long Way to the Top," which closes the disc and has become a concert favorite.
While Williams may sometimes sound like an artist who needs to suffer to achieve her best work, she says she is most creative and prolific when she's happy. And she's very happy in her personal and professional relationship with Overby.
"We get to travel together and work together, and we're just one of those couples who can do that and it works out great."
With: Buick 6
Where: Bijou Theatre
When: 8 p.m. today
Tickets: $39.50; available at all Tickets Unlimited outlets, 865-656-4444.