New music: CD on CDs

Lucinda Williams – “Little Honey”

(Lost Highway)

Williams plays Belk Theater at 7:30 p.m. Monday. $24.50-$44.50. 704-372-1000.

For the first time since 1998's Grammy-winning “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” Lucinda Williams balances her bluesy rock side with pain and heartbreak. It's her most cohesive and stylistically diverse record in years, with wild near-garage rockers, dirty blues, Stones-like soul, and aching folk.

She sounds as giddy as her weary Louisiana/Arkansas drawl will allow her to on the downright uplifting opener “Real Love,” which suggests the 55-year-old finally realized true love is found in music.

On the flip side, the blues-guitar-filled “Tears of Joy,” “Plan to Marry,” and “Rarity” feature the slow vein-opening intimacy and reflection fans expect. The duet “Jailhouse Tears” finds Williams and Elvis Costello making strange, distinctive vocal bedfellows.

“Little Honey” hits stores Oct. 14.

Big Bus Dream – “The Jesters of Xmas Town”

(4th Ward Records)

Big Bus Dream appears on 106.5 The End's “90 Minutes” at 8:30 p.m. Sunday. They play Summit Coffee House in Davidson on Nov. 8.

Big Bus Dream's second album is at its heart folk music – but there's more to the thoughtful arrangements than acoustic guitar and vocals. Mike Shannon's voice is placed at the front of the mix, giving the lyrics a boost so that no part of the stories he tells is lost. He sings with a Mark Knopfler-style: gruff, hushed, matter-of-factness that works well with the low, driving acoustic guitar.

Musically, the tracks are populated with colorful synthesizers and inventive percussion that suggest a rocker taking a restrained and crisp folk approach. Like Talking Heads unplugged with a Bowie-esque bridge, “Money Trumps Everything,” for instance, recalls Shannon's CBGB roots.

These songs could've been jacked up with electric guitars and busy production, but that might've stripped them of their loveliness.