Honey Don’t

Bluegrass Special Review Click here to read online

Written by, Dave McGee


Sept 2009


Honey Don't

2Dolla Reccas

They take their name and album title song from a classic Carl Perkins number; one of their songs references "Gone, Gone, Gone," the B side of Perkins's August 1955 single, "Let the Jukebox Keep on Playin'" (which was actually Perkins's first Sun single-his debut single had been released on the Sun subsidiary, Flip); and just as Perkins lauded his home state's virtues in (including the curious addendum of pointing it out as "where they built the first atomic bomb") in "Tennessee," so does this outfit pay homage to the Volunteer State, albeit in absentia and in homesickness in a lovely, affecting bluegrass ballad, "Talk To Me Tennessee." Whereas Honey Don't-lead singer/songwriter/elegant acoustic guitarist Bill Powers, standup bassist, standup gal and evocative harmony singer Shelley Gray, economical mandolinist Greg Schochet and the striking fiddler Ryan Drickey-may shout out to the Original Cat, they're in no way trying to encroach on his sacred turf in any other manner. Perkins liked to think of his music as being of the "feel good" variety, owing to its propulsive rhythmic thrust and high spirits (sometimes literally, as in being the product of too much alcohol consumed in the Sun studio during sessions); Honey Don't, advancing a subtle, low-flame rhythmic pulse, will also have you feeling good, not necessarily from the physical energy expended by those in their orbit but rather from being in the company of honest, unpretentious, unself-conscious artists who make a body grateful to be right here in the moment with this band. Powers and Gray also perform old-time string band music with the estimable Sweet Sunny South, so this spinoff project gives them a chance to explore some new turf while not straying too far afield from the SSS's stylistic base of operations.

Honey Don't may be laid back but that should not be mistaken as synonymous with enervated, or humorless. You gotta love the sprightly little workout, "Who Took the Jukebox," in which Powers, with Gray cooing smoothly behind him, gets his hackles up over finding his favorite restaurant minus its trademark jukebox. In this case it's not a matter of progress in the name of upgrading the premises, but rather the upshot of "goons" from BMI and ASCAP putting the kibosh on the tunes, which further suggests the unspoken addendum that someone wasn't paying proper royalties for the use of the intellectual property thereon. Ol' Perkins left it at "Let the Jukebox Keep On Playing," but Honey Don't does its thing in real time, with attendant consequences. The modern world is brought to bear on a more unvarnished slice of life, "You Can't Get Your Kicks on Route 66," a toe-tapping ditty featuring Schochet's frisky mandolin lines buttressing Powers's raspy vocal, in a song that moves from extolling a time when the Mother Road was a place where "the roads were long, the girls were cool," to reporting on what's left of that magnificent two-laner now, to wit: "well the neon signs and long white lines are all gone, gone, gone..." as the song bustles ahead, chronicling the loss of this or that totemic 66 landmark, giving leeway to Drickey to add some fiddle exhortations to the mix, before adding the coup de grace: "Now they got that freeway, honey, but it don't feel free to me/You can drive all day but there still ain't nothing to see." Fans of Bobby Troup's original Route 66 classic will be glad to hear that Powers name checks the same cities, but, again, from the current perspective: "Well on in to Texas where the cowboys roam/down into Gallup, New Mexico/On to Arizona, just forget about Winona, she's gone..." Funny thing is, the more Powers references all these things that are "gone, gone, gone" the more alluring Route 66 becomes as a destination-he sounds like he's having so damn much fun as he tools down the deserted highway, with that forlorn Interstate offering far less interesting vistas, that he winds up delivering a sideways kind of tribute to the route in question, which is still a singular experience, in all its dessicated glory.

Though the album is devoted mostly to sparkling Powers originals, he and Honey Don't take time out to do a terrific, languorous interpretation of Mississippi John Hurt's "Pallet On Your Floor," with Powers and Gray in easygoing, bluesy harmony and the fiddle and mandolin dialogue adding a sweet bluegrass feel to a song that has been adapted and adopted by roots artists of all stripes. Another cover, of the timeless "Cuckoo," originally an English folk song that uses a horse racing metaphor to stand in for a quest for lost love, gives Gray the vocal spotlight, and she delivers an appealing, oddly dry reading in contrast to the lively fiddle-mandolin-guitar backdrop steadily driving the song forward and lending a haunting touch to Gray's storytelling.

These are but a few of the wonders to be found on Honey Don't's impressive debut. Out of the chute this band has a style, a sound and a defined point of view as distinctive and compelling as those of the finest roots outfits extant. Instrumentally, each musician steps up with inspired playing, technically solid and emotionally rich; Powers's original songs mark him as an original voice; and the harmonies of Powers and Gray have an undeniable transcendent quality. 

Crackling with life and overflowing with soul, its music rare and true, Honey Don't exalts the human spirit. Settle in for a long run, folks. Please.