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Lucinda Williams' newfound confidence yields her first Top 10 album

Long before Lucinda Williams started recording Little Honey, she had a distinctly unfamiliar sense of security.

"When we got done with [2007's] West, we knew we had another record ready," recalls the Los Angeles singer-songwriter. "We knew we had enough songs for another record, and that was a good feeling. That's the first time that's ever happened."

In years past, it had been a Williams tradition to have just enough songs to make up a record. But these days, her output has been practically prolific.

That rush of creativity — which produced her first Top 10 album in Little Honey — has coincided with a period of newfound contentment in both her career and personal life. She's engaged to Tom Overby, a former record executive who now manages her and also co-produced Little Honey with Eric Liljestrand. 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. And as a songwriter, she's feeling freer than ever to explore whatever stylistic inspiration strikes her.

Over a career that now stretches across three decades, Williams has been famous for writing darkly hued songs about love, loss and personal turmoil. But on Little Honey, songs like "Honey Bee," "Tears of Joy" and "Real Love" clearly relate to her romantic bliss.

"I feel like the possibilities are endless, really," she says of her songwriting, "and I feel like I really kind of graduated and am now in another phase where I can start to explore different subjects."

In reality, Williams' triumph over creative barriers has been a gradual, decade-long process.

Williams' stunning 1998 album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, put her on the map as a first-rate singer-songwriter, earning her a Grammy (her first of three) for Contemporary Folk Album of the Year. But the record's success also left Williams wondering how she could make another one that would live up to it. She finally decided there was no point in worrying about it and went on to treat her next CD, 2001's Essence, as an opportunity to expand on the alternative country/rock sound she'd established on previous albums.

With Little Honey, Williams ventures into new stylistic territory with songs like "Rarity," an expansive, ambient ballad with lovely touches of horn, and "Little Rock Star," which is a sweet lament that boasts an ear-grabbing blend of power-pop guitar riffs and whooshing psychedelic rock effects. Songs like "Real Love" and the gloriously sexy "Honey Bee" rock considerably more than anything on West, a release that Williams says was meant to be rather introspective.

Williams had a feeling fans would connect with Little Honey, even before the CD was released last October. She and Buick 6 had begun debuting some of the songs on tour in the spring and summer of 2008, and discovered that audiences warmed up to the material more quickly than they had when she'd previewed the previous album's tracks.

"It hasn't been a lot of work bringing people into the new songs," she notes, pleased. "People are just responding so enthusiastically. We start the set off with 'Real Love,' and it's just right off the bat. People just love it."

scene@csindy.com

Purchase a CD: Lucinda Williams - Little Honey

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