Album Review – The Honeycutters’ ‘On The Ropes’

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One of my favorite Americana discoveries over the past year has without a doubt been The Honeycutters. This five-piece band from North Carolina brings a dedicated country sound to their music, with lead singer Amanda Platt also serving as the chief songwriter. Last year’s album, Me Oh Mywas a solid country album with 14 songs that never peaked beyond a mid-tempo range in the production. As good a songwriter as Platt is, the songs seemed to sit in a safe, traditional country region with several songs about cheating, love, or lost souls hooking up for one night. But with the band’s fourth album the monotony is gone. On The Ropes shows more versatility from The Honeycutters with a bit of rock and pop influence in the production, while still keeping the songs firmly planted in country music. The songs and lyrics are richer, exploring more topics, and Platt’s vocals sound as good as ever.

The album begins with the title track, where the phrase “on the ropes” is used in the boxing sense, also coming full circle with the album cover. The boxing metaphor for the song is used to describe a relationship falling apart, and how she’ll continue to fight her fight and not give in. “On the Ropes” is more upbeat, setting the tone for the album. “Blue Besides” deals with the realities of growing up and moving on from a once comfortable life. Starting a new chapter isn’t easy, and takes its toll on you, and Platt highlights the struggles of the process. The production kicks up halfway through the song, making this an easy to listen song.

“Golden Child” has a bit more rock flair to it with an electric guitar leading the production. This is also one of several songs where the organ chimes into mix. “Golden Child” continues on with the more upbeat tone of the beginning of the album. “The Handbook” seems to combine some pop influences into the mix, while also having the most traditional sounding country music of the entire album. The steel guitar owns the production, but with the electric keyboards and pop nuances in the song’s delivery. It’s a unique style for the song, one I enjoy listening to.

On The Ropes slows down with “The Only Eyes.” This is a tried and true country love song where Platt sings of how her past failed relationships have left her heart heavy and eyes blue. But even with her past experiences, she knows that she’s in love and that these are the only eyes she could have to be able to see this love. It’s one of the better written songs on the album. The Honeycutters explore a nice mix of rock and country in “Back Row.” With the electric guitar, organ, and harmonica mixed into the production, “Back Row” has a heavier tone, fitting with the song’s content. Platt sings of a man who’s down on his luck, in need of prayers and support, who may be too prideful to admit he needs help. The extended solo over the last minute of the song is excellent, giving the backing band members a chance to shine on the album.

Another great example of Platt’s songwriting is “Useless Memories.” It’s another slower song, but the stripped back production allows the story to sink in. “Useless Memories” touches returning to your old home, a house now abandoned, dusty, and run-down. The subject is clearly running away from real life, and using the distractions of memories from his or her younger years to avoid whatever he or she is running from. “Piece of Heaven” deals with lost love. Platt sings in the first person about how she tried to keep her lover at a arm’s length, only to be surprised when he had enough and left her all alone. And now that she’s had what she calls a piece of heaven, she’s searching to find it again.

The Honeycutters break out their honky-tonk side with “Let’s Get Drunk.” The rowdier guitar and keyboards fill the production as Platt sings about a woman who’s ready to be rowdy and reckless for the night. The song isn’t really anything special, but it’s a fun listen nonetheless. “500 Pieces” explores the broken hearts of those who’ve lost love along the way. The steel guitar rings as Platt sings about trying to alleviate the pain from the brokenness. The Honeycutters strip the production down all the way to a single electric guitar on “Ache.” This breakup song deals with a prideful woman who doesn’t want to admit that how hurt she is to see a man walk out of her life. For a song dealing with vulnerability like this, I love the decision to use one heavy guitar to compliment the lyrics. It’s easy to overlook this song playing the album in the background, but it’s one to pay attention to.

The band takes a stab at covering Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and do a justifiable job in my opinion. There’s many different covers of the song out there, but The Honeycutters truly make it their own with the steel guitars and production fitting nicely into the band’s musical niche, with a bluegrass like style to the song. On The Ropes comes to a close with “Barmaid’s Blues.” Set in an old western town with horses, cowboys, and saloons, Platt sings about the local barmaid who copes with the fact that there are no eligible bachelors available for her. The song starts out slow as the stage is set, but the production picks up after about two minutes, and carries the song and the story that keep you entertained until the end.

Unlike their previous album, I think On the Ropes shows The Honeycutters stretching themselves into new territories with the music and lyrics. It’s a welcome evolution in their music, as the album flows nicely between songs without sounding repetitive. The best thing about their additional styles and influences is that the band keeps it decidedly country throughout every song. The Honeycutters are a band worth listening to, and they keep getting better.

Grade: 9/10

Album Review – The Honeycutters’ ‘Me Oh My’

The Honeycutters are a roots country band from Asheville, North Carolina. Tal Taylor plays the mandolin, Rick Cooper the bass, Josh Milligan plays the drums for the band, and Matt Smith offers his skills on the pedal steel, electric guitars and a dobro. But the driving force of The Honeycutters is founder, primary songwriter, and singer Amanda Platt. She brought the band together in 2007 and led the way for the band through two albums. On this third album, released by in April, Platt also took the production reigns, taking full control of the creative direction of Me Oh My.

Platt says, “The new album is the one I’m most proud of to date…I took much more of a driver’s seat in it’s making, and the process has forced me to do a lot of growing up… I feel like I’ve really found my voice.” She worked alongside assistant producer and engineer Jon Ashley to deliver the 14 tracks found on album. The country roots are firm, with the ring of the pedal steel and the pluck of the mandolin noticeably behind Platt’s vocal delivery on nearly every track.

Me Oh My kicks off with a western swing in “Jukebox.” Here we find two down-on-their-luck people alone in the bar. Platt provides first person narration of asking the lonely man to dance with her. The moving production inspires the listener to dance along and is a great choice for an album opener. “All You Ever” finds a prideful man being knocked down a few pegs. This conceited fellow wants all eyes on him in the public, but in the privacy of his home, he’s been humbled. He doesn’t know how to cope with not being the center of attention.

The title track is a commentary of the modern woman. Unlike in our parents and grandparents’ age, women have children out-of-wedlock. They don’t all settle down for marriage. “Me Oh My” suggests the central character may be acting out in the wake of losing a child. It’s a hard-hitting song with honest lyrics, and that’s how Platt likes to write. “Me Oh My” is one of my favorite songs from the album. “Edge of the Frame” deals with a famous “friend” who simply uses people as he or she sees fit. Platt sings in the chorus, “Why you make a beggar out of your best friend? You pull me in and you push me away, ’til I’m standing on the edge, standing on the edge of the frame.

The Honeycutters touch on marital affairs in “Ain’t it The Truth.” Here, Platt sings of a woman in small town where everyone, including said woman, knows her husband is unfaithful. Judgments from the townsfolk are passed because this woman stays with her husband despite his actions. “Carolina” is a love story involving a rambling man. The wanderlust and call for the road is too much for him to stay, and she holds on, despite knowing how hopeless her love is. The theme of love continues on the ballad “Texas ’81.” This is a husband who travels frequently and keeps coming back. Together, they reminisce on their beginning and she yearns for him to stay, for their moments together to not end before he has to leave again. It’s a heartbreaking song punctuated by a great production that captures the passion and hope described in the lyrics.

“Little Bird” carries a theme similar to “Jukebox.” The song describes two people who are flawed and lonely, and that vulnerability allows them to let their guard down to the other person, just for the night. The two are scared of the morning, broken and hiding in the darkness. “Not That Simple” is another song exploring the topic of a cheating husband. In this case, the woman is hurt that he won’t love her, and that she’s fallen for someone who can’t love her. She tries to cope but simply shies away from everything until she simply can’t cry about it any longer. It’s a song about coming to terms and accepting his lies as a truth in her life.

With all the cheating and heartbreak songs, The Honeycutters offer up a song with a positive take on love. “Wedding Song” is about a bride thanking her husband for his love. When they met she was broken and hurt. Through his love and passion for her, he’s helped rebuild that heart and shown her happiness again. “Wedding Song” is a nice, bluegrass inspired love song. The following song, though, finds a marriage falling apart. “Hearts of Men” deals with a father and a husband who’s unhappy with this life. The sacrifices he made to build his family cause him angst. He desires some freedom and independence from his responsibilities, and his children simply want their father back.

“I’ll Be Lovin’ You” is a song of one lover’s encouraging. Life has brought them down and he’s not handling it well. She’s devoted to keep on loving him while he feels like he can’t love himself. At almost six minutes long, “I’ll Be Lovin’ You” has an excellent extended musical outro. “Lucky” finds a girl who continually makes mistakes in the relationship. However, her husband continues to forgive her time and time again, and she ponders how she got so lucky. The album ends with the love song “A Life For You.” It’s not your typical love song, as we see a Bonnie and Clyde type couple that are on the run from the cops. The woman, knowing that her husband is a better person than she, encourages him to save himself. She’s continually dreamed of a better life for him, and wants him to live that out. It’s a touching song that hits you hard. You really just have to hear it for yourself.

Overall, Me Oh My, is a pleasant album. The country rooted production and bluegrass styles in some of the songs are great. Amanda Platt’s lyrics are honest and deep, and she provides a good vocal delivery. My only complaints with the album are that the length of 14 songs is a little much, especially since none of the songs drift above a mid-tempo beat. Me Oh My drags a bit with the high song total. However, Platt’s sharp story telling and production do help make up for the drag, as the last couple songs do make the wait worth it. This is an album country fans missing the roots will love.

Grade: 8/10