NEW YORK (Billboard) - Thanks to her Southern twang and onstage cowboy hat, Lucinda Williams has long been recognized as a country artist. But her most recent Grammy Award win, in 2001, was for best female rock vocal performance, and on her new album, Williams lets her rocker gal loose with authority.
"Little Honey," due October 14 via Lost Highway, is the follow-up to 2007's "West," which has sold 250,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Material for the new set began taking shape during the "West" sessions, but it didn't fit with that album's more melancholy vibe.
Williams also went back and poached from old, unfinished lyrics and finished what she'd started a long time ago. The origins of "Circles and X's" date back to 1985, while "Well Well Well" was plucked from the "Sweet Old World" sessions of 1991. The resulting album dabbles in a variety of rock styles, from the dirty blues sound of "Jailhouse Tears," on which Williams duets with Elvis Costello, and lead single "Real Love," an uptempo number heavy with solos.
There's also a cover of AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" and guest appearances by Matthew Sweet and the Bangles' Susanna Hoffs. And for those seeking the more downtrodden moments of past work, "Wishes Were Horses" and "Rarity" should do nicely.
Williams is known for pouring her personal life into her music, but "Little Honey," she says, represents a different side of her.
"The narrative songs are more about me looking at another person or another situation rather than it being introspective," she says. "There's a feeling across the album of, 'Just lighten up.' Even though it has some older songs, overall the album says, 'I'm here, and I've not crawled down a hole. I'm here and I'm rocking out.'"
Williams road-tested many of the "Little Honey" tracks well before a release date was even announced. Opening up a show with three unfamiliar tunes is a risky move, but Williams says it has paid off. "I'm not just this one thing, and you see that when you see me play live," she says. "I love to do the ballad thing, but the audience wants to rock. People expect that now."
Williams is also sure to garner attention for a digital-only EP of protest songs, "Lu in 08," due October 28. On offer are four live tracks, three of which are covers: Bob Dylan's "Masters of War," Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" and the Thievery Corporation/Wayne Coyne collaboration "Marching the Hate Machines Into the Sun." The fourth cut is the Williams original "Bone of Contention," which originally was intended for inclusion on "Little Honey." "Bone" is being given away as a free MP3 to anyone who pre-orders "Little Honey" via Amazon.
Williams will be on tour in North America through mid-November.