Thursday, April 23, 2015

Album Review: The Honeycutters, "Me Oh My"

Image result for the honeycutters

One of the more underrated musical centers in North America is the Appalachian Region of the United States.  Which is quite shocking when you think of it, considering this area was really the birthplace of modern music with the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers creating the first recordings in 1920’s Bristol, Virginia.  In this century, the region is still a hotbed for roots music with skilled bands and musicians plying their trade daily.

A couple of hours away from Bristol east on Interstate 40, you will find the city of Asheville, North Carolina, a bustling city of music and art nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains.  The Honeycutters are a product of this city and they have just released their third studio album “Me Oh My” (Organic Records).  A solid, straight ahead country music record, “Me Oh My” further establishes The Honeycutters as one of the top regional Americana acts on the east coast and readies them for a larger audience.

All 14 songs on this album are written by lead singer and group founder Amanda Anne Platt, who also produced the album.  While Amanda may be the current creative force behind The Honeycutters, it is the combination of her strong song writing and the wonderful talent of her bandmates that make this album and this act work.  The harmonies are tight, and the musicianship is first rate.

Starting off with a great two-step song “Jukebox”, the album takes the listener on a journey of love and loss, longing, fulfilment and redemption … all things that make up a great country record.  The title track is a solid piece of work, reminiscent of classic Mary Chapin Carpenter, both in its subject matter of the strong woman and vocal delivery by Platt.  “Carolina” is a beautiful homage to the bands home state of North Carolina, while acknowledging the desire to explore life outside her borders. “Edge of the Frame” is another winner where the female character is at a crossroads with her chosen partner in life and clearly has a decision to make on her future. 

The Honeycutters also delve back in to some past work with two solid tracks that are included on this album.  According to the album’s liner notes, “Wedding Song” was written for a friends’ wedding present.  A nice mid-tempo song with great, clever lyrics such as “when I’m with you honey it’s like money, like I’m throwing loaded dice.”  You can’t help but smile when listening to this song, it’s very well written and beautifully performed. “Little Bird” is one of the few slow songs to appear on the album and broaches the subject of love lost.  It’s also the song that brought greater attention to the songwriting talents of Amanda Anne Platt, as it was chosen as a finalist in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2011.

The Honeycutters’ “Me Oh My” is one of the great country/Americana albums to be released this year and is a clear reflection that this band is developing in to one of the top flight Americana acts.  If you like traditional country music, this album is as good as it gets.  You will not find songs about drinking from solo cups, tailgates, or driving around in the mud.  Just straight up country music in its traditional form from a band that is skilled and smart enough to deliver the real goods.  The sky is the limit for The Honeycutters.  Do yourself a favor and add this album to your collection, you'll be glad you did.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Concert Review: Blackberry Smoke, Town Ballroom, Buffalo, New York - March 22, 2015

Blackberry Smoke made a triumphant return to Buffalo, New York on March 22, playing to a sold out house at the Town Ballroom.  It is a remarkable turn of events when one considers that the last time they played Buffalo, a crowd of perhaps 80 people attended.  At long last, Buffalo discovered what many of us had known - that this is arguably the best touring band in North America.  

Opening up their set with the rollicking "Six Ways to Sunday", a track from their first wide-spread release "Little Piece of Dixie", these Georgia boys had the crowd rolling with them all night.  Following up with "Pretty Little Lie", a song from 2012's "The Whippoorwill" which gained some moderate radio airplay, fans were treated to a lengthy show which covered the entire spectrum of Blackberry Smoke's career so far.  

While lots of their standards were present in the set, such as the Friday afternoon anthem "Good One Coming On", tracks from their recently released album "Holding All the Roses" were featured prominently.  One of the best performances of the night was "Wish in One Hand", which truly captures the essence of this great band ... strong writing and vocals from lead singer Charlie Starr, brilliant musicianship and harmonies by the rest of the band, leading to a loud and clear sound.  Another strong track from the new album is "Rock and Roll Again", featuring a solid groove and clever lyrics.  It's a tune you'll have rolling in your head over and over once you hear it.

Generally speaking, a good measuring stick for a band's staying power comes with a simple observation: if the people are singing along to your music, you have a good chance to be around for a long time.  If they're singing along to your music and you haven't been played on the radio, then you'll be around for as long as you want to keep touring and creating music because you have loyal, hardcore fan base that will stick with you for your entire run. It's where Blackberry Smoke finds itself today.  Night in and night out, this band now plays to full houses all across the United States with people singing their songs back to them. Their success is well earned and much deserved. They are arguably the hardest working band on the road today.  Attending their show is among the best money you will ever spend for your entertainment dollar.  

A special mention goes out to the opening act on this tour.  The Temperance Movement is a band that I had not heard of until this show, and I promise, they are not a band I will forget. Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, they are the perfect opening act for Blackberry Smoke. Night after night, these guys are setting the bar very high for Blackberry Smoke to follow, they are nothing short of outstanding.  The musicianship is outstanding, the chemistry between band members is palpable and the lead singer is an awesome throwback to Mick Jagger.  The man has charisma, character and talent all over the place. It will not be long before The Temperance Movement is headlining their own tour across North America.  In the meantime, they are doing an outstanding job as an opening act.