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In the Studio: Lucinda Williams Cures Her Blues

August 13, 2008 12:08 PM ET

"Whatever record I'm doing reflects my life," says Lucinda Williams with a smile, sitting in Los Angeles' Village Recorder studios. And guessing from the sound of the singer-songwriter's ninth album, Little Honey, an upbeat disc of bluesy rockers and contented love songs, Williams is feeling pretty good these days.

The sunny vibe clearly comes through in the rowdy arrangements on the 13-track set — co-produced by Eric Liljestrand and Williams' manager-fiance, Tom Overby — which bring the lively playing of guitar ace Doug Pettibone and her road band, the Buick 6, to the forefront.

Though Little Honey sounds strikingly different from 2007's downcast West, the majority of the songs were originally written for that album. And some of the material goes back even further. The ballad "Circles and Xs" dates to 1985; "Well, Well, Well" is from the demos for 1992's Sweet Old World and is revived here with bluegrass singers Jim Lauderdale and Charlie Louvin. Other guests include Elvis Costello, who plays the part of a drunken degenerate on "Jailhouse Tears"; and Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs add harmonies to the trippy, six-minute "Little Rock Star," inspired by seeing Pete Doherty in Rolling Stone. "It's an empathetic look at self-indulgent, little-brat rock stars," she says. "He's great, and you want to say, 'Snap out of it!' "

To close the set, Williams covers AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)." "At first, I didn't dig it," she says. "But I gave it a shot. And what do you know? It seems to have worked!"

[From Issue 1059 — August 21, 2008]

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Song Stories

“San Francisco Mabel Joy”

Mickey Newbury | 1969

A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

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