Perfectionism has its place, and it's hard to argue with the results when it comes to the music Lucinda Williams has created in the years that typically elapse between each of her albums. But there's a raw energy on "Little Honey" -- which arrives this week, a little more than a year after 2007's "West" -- that's as refreshing as it is palpable. The rock swagger, the playful sexuality, the late-night alienation and bluesy introspection all make a convincing case that she should have been a Rolling Stone in whatever musical universe Mick and Keith are one guy, and that guy is a woman.
There's no less gravel on the road she travels here, but there are pit stops where happiness, or at least the potential for it, offers welcome relief and release from life's endless string of heartbreaks. "Real Love" gets the album cranking with a gritty celebration of that moment when love goes soul deep. "Honey Bee" is a frisky rock scorcher, while "Tears of Joy" is in a league with Buck Owens' "Together Again" as one of the saddest-sounding songs ever to welcome the blessings of love.
She hasn't lost her knowledge of what can, and too often does, go wrong. Her countrified duet with Elvis Costello on the deliciously downward spiraling "Jailhouse Tears" lets Costello's unlovable loser try out all his best excuses for his wicked ways on Williams, who, in the best Loretta Lynn tradition, isn't having any of it. And "Rarity" is a dirge-like ode to a musician who's been sullied by machinations of the music business.
The cumulative message is that it's all part of the territory. Rock 'n' roll is a dirty job, but thankfully someone as perceptive as Williams has elected to do it.