Album Review – The Honeycutters’ ‘On The Ropes’

It’s always fascinating as a critic watching certain bands grow throughout the years. Yes, I am implying the term “evolution”, a term that is often so misused when it comes to describing actual artistic growth. However, when it comes to the Asheville, North Carolina based band, The Honeycutters, I truly feel that we have a band that has truly grown more and more with every album.

Just last year we saw lead vocalist and songwriter Amanda Platt take full creative control over the band’s third studio album, Me Oh My, an album that showcased the band’s strong, very pleasing roots based sound as well as Platt’s excellent songwriting. With that, it was easily the band’s most focused album to date, and the direction they chose to take from there was as good as anyone’s guess.

For their fourth album, On The Ropes, The Honeycutters show off their most versatile and exciting work to date, choosing to take their rootsy, traditional country sound and push it farther by incorporating elements of pop, rock, and soul in some places. In addition, unlike their last album, On The Ropes, the tempo changes from their mid-tempo comfort zone that bogged down the consistency of Me Oh My. In other words, this is the Honeycutter’s best album to date.

The changes made to the band’s sound are evident early on in the project. “Blue Besides” begins with booming drums accompanied later by a plucky mandolin and an increase in the tempo about halfway through. “Golden Child” takes on a bluesy persona while “The Handbook” finds the band incorporating some playful keyboard with steel guitar to form a sound that is rooted in country but also could be considered pop.  Then you have the Fleetwood Mac inspired “Back Row” along with “Ache”, which is a song accompanied by nothing except an electric guitar.

Of course, this isn’t to insinuate that the band “sold out” or anything silly like that. What’s great about the Honeycutters is that they haven’t forgotten their roots, which is why every single song here is rooted in a familiar traditional country base. This really speaks to their power as artists that they were able to truly evolve their sound. Where the above mentioned tracks venture into new territory for the band, many of the others tracks find the band sticking to their familiar roots based sound that one would hear on previous Honeycutter releases. “The Only Eyes”, “Useless Memories”, “Little Piece of Heaven”, and “500 Pieces” are tried and true Honeycutter sounding tunes that sound natural sequenced in between the band’s more adventurous material on here.

In terms of lyrics and themes, Amanda Platt has only gotten better. Aside from the fun little number called “Let’s Get Drunk”, the tracks of On The Ropes take familiar themes in Country and Americana and go even deeper with them. Take for example the title track, which centers around the theme of a love falling apart while also incorporating boxing metaphors to imply that our female narrator isn’t giving up her fight of love. And then you have “Blue Besides” which finds our female narrator speaking to someone much younger about the reality of growing up and having to give up childish ways. It’s a song that certainly that resonates with me and for that will definitely go down as one of my favorite songs of 2016. I think it’s fitting that there’s a song later on in the album called “Useless Memories” which finds our narrator returning to a childhood home to find it abandoned, causing her to recollect her memories of the house from before. “Back Row” takes on an interesting, unique theme of a man who is sitting in a church after taking every hit from the world that he can take. He definitely needs help but he’s got too much pride to admit that he does. Of course, some of the best tracks come towards the end of the album. They take on Leonard Cohen’s biblical tinged “Hallelujah” and do a fitting job of delivering the song all while putting their own roots stamp on the track. “Barmaid’s Blues” is a Western inspired tale of a female bartender who laments on the fact that she can’t find a suitable bachelor for herself. Much like “Blue Besides”, this song’s tempo increases after awhile and keeps you hooked with its interesting story.

As far as offering criticism for this album goes, I will say that much like the band’s last album, On The Ropes is a lot to take in at thirteen tracks. This is a tricky complaint however, seeing as how there really isn’t a bad track to be found on this album. Still, it’s a lot, and when the last two tracks are over six minutes long, you wonder if maybe one or two tracks wouldn’t have been a better fit for the band’s next album.

But then again, this was an obviously an adventurous album for the band, and while the passion may have made the band go a bit overboard, there is definitely a lot of heart that went into this album. The effort exuded on On The Ropes is one that showcases a band who seriously continues to get better and better with each album. The Honeycutters made good albums with 2009’s Irene and 2012’s When Bitter Met Sweet. They made a great album in 2015 with Me Oh My. Now in 2016, they’ve made a truly excellent album with On The Ropes.

The Honeycutters are as follows:

Amanda Platt – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Tal Taylor – Mandolin
Rick Cooper – Bass
Josh Milligan – Drums, Vocal Harmony
Matt Smith – Pedal Steel, Electric Guitar,Dobro

(8/10)

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