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Lucinda Williams: Love Gone Horribly Wrong

During a stellar career in which she's straddled the boundary between rock and country, Lucinda Williams has often sung about love gone wrong. That's certainly the case in "Jailhouse Tears," from Williams' new Little Honey, only the bad-love scenario here comes with a twist: Her imperfect man, played by Elvis Costello, gets to answer back in the song. The result is Williams' highly likable take on a classic country form: the he-said/she-said duet.

"Not all my songs are about ex-boyfriends," Williams once said. Let's hope that's the case with "Jailhouse Tears." In it, Costello plays a lover with an apparent drug problem who gets tossed in the clink yet again — possibly for trying to steal Williams' truck, which, besides drug use, is the only arrestable offense the song mentions. Costello protests — "Look at me, I'm clean now" — but Williams isn't having it: "You're so full of s---," she sings, before launching into a chorus that implies she's done with this relationship after trying to make it work for years.

"Jailhouse Tears" is clearly a sad song, but the tone isn't terribly dark; as a document of substance-abuser malfeasance, it's more Cops than Intervention. The appeal, beyond the wistfully catchy tune, is hearing two very distinct singers — both great, neither wielding traditionally pretty voices — as they trade lines. Williams' typically twangy sandpaper croon blends weariness and anger, while Costello exploits the catch in his voice to sound a little pathetic, which is probably the point.

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Christian Hoard