When you order a good whiskey. You want there to be Past in a bottle. When you sip, you should feel transported back to when the whiskey was first distilled. You want that initial amber heat on the lips, the way the liquid evaporates to smoke in your mouth and the slow tide of warmth to engulf your chest from the inside. If you can’t afford to shell out thirty dollars for a glass, neat, then spend ten bucks on Billy Jack, the new album by HoneyHoney and enjoy that feeling anytime you press play.
HoneyHoney is a Los Angeles based indie-bluegrass/rock band. Ohio native Suzanne Santos and east coast born Mets fan Ben Jaffe are the core duo. They’ve been working with several other musicians over the years and have rounded out a great live band with Gerry Porter on drums and JP Maramba on the bass.
Santos brings her fiddle, banjo and one of the most soothing, hypnotic and electric voices around, along to play. She combines her raw, emotional and playful lyrics with Jaffe’s relaxed melodies and rhythms to create an album that begs for the repeat button. Ben’s quiet background vocals are a stand-up accompaniment to Suzanne’s, but it’s his rich guitar and piano work that truly makes this duo a match made in the west.
HoneyHoney achieved hints of success a few years back. Keifer Sutherland taking particular note and directing a western theme video for the ditty “Little Toy Gun”. While their debut album, First Rodeo made some initial headway, the band’s rise was stalled for some reason. I’m gonna chalk it up to tapping the barrel a little too early. HoneyHoney needed few more years of fermentation. The Billy Jack label private reserve is now ours for consumption.
TRACK BY TRACK REVIEW
Angel of Death
Have you ever met someone that you thought only looked at you “that way”? You can be wandering in the darkness and then all of the sudden light shines upon you and becomes your saving grace. Soon enough you realize that the light emanates from atop a beautiful lighthouse and that it will soon pass by and light another, only to return intermittently. The sad truth being that the lighthouse also stands alone in the darkness constantly searching for focus. Sultry in it’s delivery, “Angel of Death” draws you in with it’s consistent rhythm. The lyrics seduce your primal nature only to lock you in and deliver the ultimate confession – she will destroy you if you allow yourself to fall in love. It’s tale of obsession and destruction. The fiddle captures the playfulness and sadistic nature of the theme. It’s a great start to the album.
Glad I’ve Done What I Did
Part of what makes HoneyHoney lyrics so enthralling is their brutal honesty. This track takes us into a life that has struggled to live from the point of birth. A fighter who never makes excuses by blaming the circumstances that surround her. Some may regret things they’ve done, but here we have a story of accepting the past and trucking along not worrying about who will win and who will lose. Each low bass string note and thunder from the drums present the consistent pounding life will inflict along the road. It’s Suzanne’s banjo that makes the perfect entrance, providing the optimism needed to just keep swimming.
An autobiographical tale of staying in your hometown longer than you wanted to. Watching the landscape lose it’s charm as the years fade away. An old promise of a simple life that is now a dilapidated bitter existence. The tune begs for an 11 on the volume knob and singing along to. It’s a knee slapping jam that keeps the duo’s vocals at the top of their game.
When I mentioned the whiskey earlier, about how the liquid evaporates in your mouth and you are left with this vapor that reminds you of what just touched your lips – yeah well, this is that point in the album.
Every so often a broken-heart song comes along and punches you right in the gut. What happened here with “Don’t Know How” is nothing other than brilliance. By this point in the album you are already mesmerized by the voice, you already know the words sung are honest, the melodies embed themselves in your subconscious – here, it’s the perfect storm:
“Go… Go… Go…
Go on without me now
Lose me in the crowd”
The gift of being able to capture in lyric and melody the 1,001 feelings that are associated with ending a relationship because of distance in heart and body is evident here. What’s breathtaking here is that Suzanne’s voice provides the reasons why the love must end while her fiddle provides the broken hearted sadness at having to deal with the worst. The fiddle pleads, cries and begs throughout the song to not be left alone. It’s only when the guitar and banjo join with the band that comfort is finally provided… only to be left alone at the end. This is a gem of songwriting.
Turn That Finger Around
Ben Jaffe’s easy electric guitar is there to help you up as you come out the previous song with your heart on the floor. Easily the most soothing track on the album, “Turn That Finger Around” brings along with it a nice cathartic release. Being able to push back a little against the judgments of others. Others that need to take a long look at themselves first. It’s not apologetic, just contextual. A terrific build in the music that allows for plenty of layers to fold in throughout.
I Don’t Mind
Real honky-tonk bluegrass roots coming through strong here. It makes you adjust your belt, grab your lady friend and head out onto the dance floor. I don’t mind, no I don’t mind, I don’t mind having this song in my head all day long.
Old School Friends
I am reminded of Rilo Kiley’s “With Arms Outstretched”, not necessarily in the style of song but the mood of it. This song begs for a late-night campfire. Suzanne and Ben prove there is still room for a great duet and sing-a-long. An ode to friendship and the journey of life, it’ll make you go deep within your friends list on facebook and want to reach out. Just be careful.
Let’s Get Wrecked
By far the most rough-riding tune of the lot. A perfect blend of head tossin’ honky-tonk swing. The lyrics reveal the inevitable conflict of mixing sex and love with one of the best progression of lyrics in the chorus on the album.
“…Being in love is harder
than I ever could’ve known…”
“…Grown-up love is harder
than I ever could’ve known…”
“…Real love is harder
than I ever could’ve known…”
This tune also gives us the album’s first electric guitar solo. I’m a fanatic about guitar solos, and while they don’t need to be in every single song, they should be in every single song if they can be as sly as this one.
Inevitably, when you are not from Los Angeles and then move here, you find yourself taking a long look at your new city and wanting to write a song about it. Those who fall in love with LA are quicker to adopt the young city as their own, as well they should. LA is packed full of transplants. Musicians end up creating some of the best love letters to a city when that city is Los Angeles. Ben hangs in the air a classic piano melody as Suzanne delivers the album’s most bluesy & smokey vocals. It’s easy to get lost in the imagery the song evokes if you’ve spent anytime in the City of Angels. Of course, I may be biased – LA is my hometown and I welcome this song with arms outstretched.
All On You
While it doesn’t evoke as strong a reaction as others on the album, “All On You” arrives right on cue with simply harmonies and an easy melody. It conveys a sense of apathy and a tiresome existence. You feel it linger, like when you’re with someone who has just had their one-too-many. By this point, you are infatuated and think it cute that they’re slurring a little. It’s the whiskey’s warm drip beginning to trickle downward.
While opening this album with the seductive warning of what’s to come, HoneyHoney now ends with the brutal honest truth – you should’ve stayed away, we told you so. No sugar coating here. You’ve been warned, you’ve experienced it all and now you should know better. The constant pound of the kick drum is that hangover really coming on strong now. This is raw blues and it’s in your face.
“Don’t try and save me
I’ll be just fine
Getting used to walking
on a thin line.”
I’ve been quite fortunate enough to have been following HoneyHoney for the last 18 months. In the age of over-produced, electronic, auto-tuned music ruling the scene it’s a real treasure to be exposed to authentic Music Americana. I’ve seen HoneyHoney in packed bars, secret venues and small theaters and their live sound translates flawlessly here. Billy Jack is that 18 year old whiskey mash that you just want everyone to taste, and it’s sweet as honey.
Billy Jack Teaser Video
Catch HoneyHoney on tour and order Billy Jack now at honeyhoneyband.com
*note – this review is based on an advance copy the album. Track listing, order and mix may be different than the final release.