LUCINDA WILLIAMS – LITTLE HONEY
this album is medium appaling. I have grown to like it better than I did when we first received it but that does not say so much, since once i was medium-appalled (now bored?).
ms. williams has mostly ditched the trappings of country/blues pastiche she once clung to on her critically-acclaimed 90’s recs (not necessarily a bad thing, folks!). moreso the loss of her famed perfectionist impulses, I think.
she fails to imbue the cliches she employs with some poetic rearrangement, nudge wink irony or at least some happy earnest resigned embrace. what was once endearing or clever now looks lazy, I guess. there’s some alright stuff amidst plodding jammers–
single “real love:” L does for cocksout rockers what she did for strummy weepers (the real love she speaks of is the rocker lifestyle – “standin up behind an electric guitar) as does “little rock star” though I could really have done without that flanger guitar chorus (really!).
and what the hell happened to her voice? flat, nasal spit delivery kills many of these attempts at love songs, torch songs, and lounge soul slow-dancers. her admittedly-affected sanging used to serve some utilitarian function, I think (emotive, ya know), but now it’s just something to get past, ignore.
“circles and x’s” is good, “tears of joy” is not (“I’ll be your woman…you be my king”).
It makes me happy that she chooses to use the trad blues honey innuendo for the album title and song “honey bee” and I appreciate the extremes to which she stretches the thin metaphor (“I’m so glad you stung me/now I got your honey/all over my tummy”) but it’s a shame she chose to articulate it with an unlistenable screamy shouty pounder.
she stills sounds the most at home on the two or three country-rockers included–
esp. “well well well” in which ms. williams actually sounds like she’s having fun. also I really like this song (recommended!), a callnresponse oldtimey gem featuring charlie louvin and jim lauderdale.
“jailhouse tears” should work similarly, except that elvis costello as guest star duet pardner kind of sucks (sorry, cannot stand the man’s garbled brit-croon).
“heaven blues” minimal callnresponse gospel stomper is an embarassing piece of one-dimensional genre affectation (sad to admit, coming as it is from a woman who once recorded albums of this kind of stuff).
GREG COPELAND – DIANA AND JAMES
“I’m not the only one who’s been masquerading/you can walk down fuck-up road, clear to Eden”
here’s another album we’ve had for quite awhile that I’m just getting around to reviewing. it’s a tough one to pin down– murky, meandering story-songs with whispered vocals don’t always grab at ya–but there’s definitely something I found immediately compelling about it all–
ok, so greg is jackson browne’s high school best friend. browne produced his debut way back some 30 years ago or so but nobody noticed and g fell into obscurity, gave up on music until I guess something changed. this album is released on some bitty label start-up run by browne but I think otherwise he has no involvement this time around, probably for the best.
the album is probably some sort of story-suite or something (over my head, of course)–at least there’s some thematic and narrative threads here (I’m pretty sure “I am the one”s narrator is the killer in “muddy water”s murder ballad murder, or at least the internet tells me so).
many of the tunes are grounded in a half-hearted romantic optimism – lookin’ for love despite the high stakes, pervading sense of despair, what have you.
“who you gonna love,” is lonely and desperate lyrically — “there’s nobody here in this little house gonna keep you warm/your guardian angel’s just sitting around, watching you toss and turn”– but the regal piano/organ/guitar hook girds the tune with an anthemic poppiness.
the female duet vocals that accompany the cheerier love songs do wonders for their tunefulness and catchiness, given copeland’s old man gruff, half-spoken nod toward smokythroated soul.
probably the notsosecret hero of this record is producer greg leisz, famed A-list session stringman, who plays on all these tracks, plays lap steel, tenor guitar, mandola, mandocello, weissenborn, other things I haven’t of… leisz grounds the album is a rustic rootsiness similar to the clean folkpop sound of the npr sub-bluegrass set, but somehow weirder and warmer and hookier and doomier–slooow reverby pianos, organ, bass, strumming, plucking and bowing (minimal percussion).
the two gregs play with or comment on country song conventions without going the ballsy alt route or the over-reverent one (and without making the album sound anything like a country album).
in “typical,” copeland sing-speaks:
typical three-day day
and a three-chord song
if it wasn’t for this
I’d be screaming in tongues
and the love light shines
sparkling on razor wire
typical budweiser words
typical steel guitar
coupled with 2 minutes of intro/outro pedal steel and I know it sounds gimmicky and over-clever, but the playing totally sells it (I would listen to leisz kill on steel without the conceit of any song structure, of course).
“a woman & a man” starts off as some rangy groovin folk-rocker with tremelo guitar chords and copeland’s on some deep thoughts spoken shit – “there it is again/LA’s buzzin like a busted amp/and I think of you..” but then the chorus kicks in, the drummer makes a quick-switch to a C&W two-step, enter fiddles and duet vox (and of course, now we know, this is a love song) and he sings: “pick up your gibson and play/go fall in love and don’t stop.”
anyway, good album. I like it.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND TRAILS