The Honeycutters - On The Ropes
In between the shiny modern country-pop music of today and the gritty, dusty sound of yesterday you find The Honeycutters stepping forward with a country-Americana sound that catches the ears of both the young and old. Musically, they make a traditional, honky-tonk-flavoured sound bursting with driving rhythmic ambition, enchanting melodies and deeply poetic lyrics. At the heart of the band’s sound sits Amanda Platt, an impressive songwriter and lead vocalist. She sings with a crystal pure country twang and writes music about the simple things in life. The lyrics are universal and the songs create a natural flow with each other to tell a story of falling in and out of love. Every emotion of a relationship is laid out throughout the 13 tracks, leaving the listener with a yearning to hear the next part of the story. It is a perfect example of Ms Platt’s great storytelling. Deeply rooted in what makes American roots music great: Deep southern pain. It’s the hurt that brings the songs, and it’s the songs that heal the hurt; songs that bring us there, and back.
The most significant quality about her vocal work is the expressiveness in feeling. On The Ropes, Blue Besides and The Handbook embody the catchy tunes and punchy performances for which The Honeycutters are known, while showcasing the subtlety and introspection that have become increasingly prominent in the band’s work, with an added emphasis on the acoustic textures that have long been present in their arsenal. Let’s Get Drunk is ripe with traditional country flavour and lyrics that are undercut with edgy humour. Back Row is a strident country song with driving electric guitar and atmospheric harmonica behind Amanda’s forceful vocal. We’ve all encountered those Useless Memories, a classic post break-up song with sad-tinged mandolin, weeping steel and tinkling barroom piano. It’s arguably the oldest sentiment in country music, but this woman’s vocal sincerity lifts even the most everyday thoughts to the level of epic poetry.
There’s the cold sweat of uncertainty in Piece Of Heaven, the feeling when you’re not really sure you have anything to offer ... or, maybe you’re not really sure about anything at all. Its sparkling, spiralling swing is matched by Matthew Smith’s haunting steel guitar and Amanda’s soulful voice.
The one outside song, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, initially made me cringe when looking at the CD track listing, but one listen wiped the doubt off my face to be replaced by a beaming smile. I just love it when someone takes a song that has been sung to death and magically adds a new twist and dimension. It seems that the Honeycutters have been singing Hallelujah at gigs for a number of years and due to demand, recorded it for this album. I am mighty pleased that they did.
This album damn near beats anything coming out of Nashville’s country mainstream these days. The real-life lyrics and the subtle playing of the Honeycutters will insinuate themselves into your psyche like the whispered reassurances of an old friend, touching your heart and opening your eyes to the bittersweet joys and sorrows of everyday life. They’re the blood that pumps through ON THE ROPES, an album about heartache and hangovers, about boys and barstools, about looking back before you move on. Spit out that modern country-pop diet soda and pour yourself some of the real stuff. Bottoms up!