Artist: The Honeycutters
Album: On the Ropes
Release Date: 05/20/2016
There’s plenty of controversy coming out of North Carolina these days, but Asheville stands apart both politically and musically. One of the area’s best, The Honeycutters, has dubbed their sound “Appalachian Honky Tonk.” That description is only partially accurate as their music is more varied than most honky tonk but retains some of the gritty elements. This, their fourth release is the second with the new lineup. The pillars have remained throughout, they being songwriter and vocalist Amanda Platt and mandolinist Tai Taylor. Rick Cooper (bass) and Josh Milligan (drums) anchor the rhythm section while Matt Smith plays electric and pedal steel guitar. Platt is a gifted songwriter and vocalist. Here, as on the fine previous release, Me Oh My, she is clearly the leader. She has an authoritative, confident voice that can be sweet, aching, and joyous, sometimes even in the same song. Platt’s voice and the interplay of the guitar and mandolin give this band their unique complex sound – a clear-sounding mash-up of Americana, bluegrass, folk, and honky-tonk.
As with Me Oh My, this is a lengthy listen, almost an hour across the 13 tracks. The music moves along briskly but it’s helpful to dig in a bit deeper to appreciate some of Platt’s lyrics. She addresses the music industry in “Golden Child” with this phrase, “Now I don’t mind if it takes a little time, when it comes to waiting I’ve been practicing for years.” Usually she writes personally about longing and love, but is capable of such light-hearted fare as the radio friendly “Let’s Get Drunk” punctuated by guest Jeff Collins’ barroom piano. While “Barmaid Blues” may seem to be in a similar vein, perhaps it offers some insight into Platt’s personality with these lines, “Do you remember that oil man?/I probably should have married him/he always had an honest dime to spend/but he couldn’t dance/and I was never one to compromise/I’ve always been the stubborn kind/so when he rode out of town I just laughed.” There’s also an eight minute version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, a tune that’s long been a staple in their live shows.
Platt was a 2011 finalist of Merlefest’s acclaimed Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Her skills have only sharpened since then and she has a terrific band too. The Honeycutters get better each time out.
– Jim Hynes