Kathryn Asako Doi was born in 1942 in Los Angeles and is of Japanese descent. In 1978 she became the first female Asian American judge in the USA. In 1974, she married Michael Todd, a sculptor whose work has been displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1975, Kathryn Asako Doi gave birth to a daughter Mia Doi Todd who has forged a career as a singer songwriter, releasing 11 albums since 1997. She was inspired by the work of Joni Mitchell and a mutual friend once arranged for Mia Doi Todd to go to a Christmas party at Joni Mitchell’s house. “It turned out to be a very small gathering and my friend introduced me by saying ‘Joni, this is Mia. She’s a singer songwriter, you should really listen to her music’. And Joni said ‘How do I hear your music?’ And I was like, ‘Well, I brought you a CD’. So she says ‘Great, give it to me, I’ll put it on’. So she put it on which was not what I was hoping for. I had just brought it along as a present. We played pool and listened to my record. I was just mortified. I would have died at that moment. It just sounded awful compared to her music.”
Of all the female singer-songwriters living in Los Angeles in the 2000’s, Lucinda Williams and Joni Mitchell would be at the top of my list and both of them came to hear Mia Doi Todd’s music. When Lucinda Williams was asked whether she wrote the song “Rarity” on “Little Honey” with someone in mind, she replied “I was actually really inspired by this artist Mia Doi Todd. She’s just a really really brilliant songwriter kind of more in the underground pop folk thing, I guess. She goes out and tours and stuff. I was really struck by her lyrics. Her voice was soft and moody sounding and her melodies were great but the lyrics really impressed me.”
“Rarity” is nearly nine minutes long and it’s hard to imagine that a song could be sung more slowly. It’s a spellbinding vocal performance by Lucinda Williams with minimal accompaniment from guitar, brass and keyboards. Over the course of ten verses, she pays homage to someone who has no hits, won’t meet with presidents and “no one knows who you are”. Lucinda Williams warns that she will be called “little honey” and there will be attempts to “seduce you with money and fuck your respect”. The first and last verses are identical. “You, you’re a rarity. Your eyes say wisdom. Your skin says frailty. Your mouth says listen”. One of the most beautiful, haunting and gorgeous songs ever recorded.
“Little Rock Star” is, according to Lucinda Williams, “an empathetic look at self-indulgent little-brat rock stars.” Whether it was inspired by Pete Doherty, Amy Winehouse, Ryan Adams or Kurt Cobain depends on what article you read. Lucinda Williams has a great voice, whatever she sings, but in this song, she excels, especially when singing lines like “Will you ever know happiness little rock star or is your death wish stronger than you are.” The dynamics of the song change dramatically between the sad description of humiliation and the aggressive exhortation to grow up.
“Jailhouse Tears” is a duet with Elvis Costello. She plays the part of an abandoned wife while Elvis Costello is a two timing drug user who has ended up in prison. He claims he is a reformed character but she responds that “you’re a three time loser, you’re so full of shit.” It’s every bit as entertaining as Kirsty McColl and Shane MacGowan.
While many of the songs on the album reflect the joy that Lucinda Williams felt in her relationship with her manager, Tom Overby, some of the songs date from much earlier. “If Wishes Were Horses” was written in 1985 and is sublimely sad. The singer has spoken in anger and her liver has walked away. She regrets what she has said and begs for forgiveness. “If wishes were horses I’d have a ranch. Come on and give me another chance”. Over five simple verses, her heartbreak is overwhelming and her backing musicians play with magnificent sympathy.
“Plan to Marry” is about her relationship with Tom Overby and is a compelling combination of joy and sadness. Lines such as “when leaders can’t be trusted, when heroes let us down and innocence lies rusted frozen beneath the ground” sets a background on which happy relationships can save us. “I’ve often asked myself what pushes us to continue as a human race to continue to fall in love, marry, have children and raise families. It just gets so disparaging at times. You look at the world, and it just feels like everything is just falling apart. But somehow, we manage to find a reason to keep going. There’s something in us that pushes us on. We don’t give up.”
There are a number of out and out rock songs on this album and the opening song, “Real Love” is a celebration of her love for her husband. Musically, it’s very accessible although I’m not sure that “The thing about you so far, you squeeze my peaches/Then you send me postcards of girls on beaches” are the best lyrics that she’s ever written.
In 2008, Lucinda Williams said “You look at the world, and it just feels like everything is just falling apart.” 14 years later, her work continues to shine, even more so, given that the world has fallen apart as far as it could possibly fall. Things can only get better. Can’t they?