Lucinda Williams' Little Honey a sweet treat

Little Honey opens with the fast-lane valentine "Real Love" and closes with a splendidly roadhouse cover of the AC/DC boogie blast "It's a Long Way to the Top." In between, Williams offers a song that Amy Winehouse needs to hear - post-haste. Titled "Little Rock Star," it's a chills-inducing cautionary tale sung by a woman who can relate to those with immense talent, an appetite for escapism and maybe even a death wish. "Whatever it takes to get them to listen," Williams intones. "Piss on your designer boots and designer jeans." In the chorus, the veteran admits: "This is not all it's cracked up to be/ And I can't say I blame you/ For throwing the towel in or buying more fame."

Sad stuff. But for every song that makes you wanna cry into your whiskey there's a sweet ("Tears of Joy") or fun ("Jailhouse Tears") number. The latter, a duet with Elvis Costello, is a white-trash-couple send-up that finds Williams reprimanding her man for being "a three-time loser" and "all fucked up."

Finally, there's the quasi-title track "Honey Bee," a grungy stomp in which Williams hollers like a woman who has her man right where she wants him. "Now I got your honey," Williams yelps over revved up guitars, "all over my tummy."

Alt-country queen Lucinda Williams lost her way for a while there. More specifically, she misplaced her mojo, her sass, her joy. After climaxing with the1998 commercial breakthrough Car Wheels on A Gravel Road, Williams detoured down a path of sorrow until dead-ending into the rote despair of last year's West. The Louisiana-native finds her feisty muse on the satisfying libido-at-large Little Honey (Lost Highway) its very title a wonderfully base reference to man sugar.

The album, though, is by no means a honky-tonk take on the tacky Madonna game of menopause horniness - Williams is too damn wise for that high-risk routine. The record is as much about finding a good-time guy, and true love, whatever that is, as it is about being left in the dust by another modern-day drifter.

For too many albums, the singer/songwriter groaned and warbled about being alone over melting steel guitars rather than plugging in and rocking a barn-burning kiss-off like "Changed the Locks," from her highly underrated self-titled 1988 album. On Little Honey, Williams strikes the fierce balance that made that disc, 1992's Sweet Old World and 1998's Car Wheels a holy trinity of alt-country releases.

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