Lucinda Williams and Buick 6

North Charleston Performing Arts Center

September 27, 2008

It had been a tough week. One that began with big, scary numbers in the news and ended with one equally big, bitter pill to choke down. So on Saturday night, when Lucinda Williams brought us a taste of her forthcoming album, entitled Little Honey, it felt like some balance to the grim week behind us had finally arrived.

While not a flawless show, it was the perfect show for that evening. If we needed a reminder that stripped-down simplicity can be its own reward, Williams delivered it.

Williams stood behind the mic, sans guitar, like a torch singer while her band wrapped itself around that gutsy, char-grilled voice. Two of the openers, “Real Love” and “Tears of Joy,” gave us our first glimpse at Little Honey, which promises to reaffirm Williams’ stature as one of the best singer-songwriters in the business.

Williams and lead guitarist Doug Pettibone delivered one of the evening’s highlights, “Jailhouse Tears” (also from the new album) — a funny and caustic duet about drop-kicking losers out of your love-life. It felt cleansing.

Heartfelt and hopeful in the encore was Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth,” whose refrain recast the week’s top story: “Stop, children, what’s that sound?/Everybody look what’s going down.”

The best parts could not have been scripted: they were so plainly, unapologetically human. Williams blew the lyrics on a couple songs. She admitted that the lyric cheat sheets on a stand to her left were mostly a blur since she hadn’t gotten new contacts before leaving home. An audience member approached the stage, offering her a pair of eyeglasses. Williams laughed. She couldn’t imagine, she said, that anyone could pull off that look onstage besides Lisa Loeb. The audience rallied around Williams’ candor.

Sometimes a show takes our minds off the noise around us. And sometimes it reveals a way to wrap our heads around those distractions by reminding us of our perfect, flawed humanity. For that, give a high score to Williams. —Jon Santiago