The Honeyshakers: The Honeyshakers (self-released)

The Honeyshakers have the ingredients necessary to refine the raw craft they display here; they already have promising musical instincts, and their voices blend nicely.

I was tired after I listened to the debut album by local folk/pop trio the Honeyshakers. But then, I was tired before I played the album, so I’m not holding the gals in this group—Heidi Dean (who sings lead, plays guitar, and wrote all but one of the 11 songs here), Danielle Lindsley (vocals), and Mary Ann Russum (vocals)—responsible for my exhausted state. I was just feeling tired of life’s continuing struggle: relationships that are needlessly complex, past regrets that keep surfacing, too damned many cars on the road, and not enough time to get things done and go where I wanna go.

Dean sounds tired of all this stuff, too—most of these songs are clear expressions of weary sadness that alternate between a tear and a shrug. In “Finished,” one of Dean’s more distinctive tunes, she addresses an apparently soon-to-be ex-partner: “You with your very quiet mind/Me with my kinda loud life/Didn’t know that these things would add up/To a sum between zero/And not quite enough.” The lyrics are generally thoughtful and compelling; there’s a degree of care and craftsmanship that invites closer listening. Dean tends to avoid the simplistic and allow the listener to wonder a bit. Take “Inside,” one of the album’s standout tracks. Over lovely three-part harmonies and a simple melancholy chord progression, Dean’s words talk about the struggle to contain one’s emotions: “Inside is where I keep my love safe/Inside is where I know what you’re thinking/Inside is where everything happens/Along with that, something more…” The “something more” is repeated several times, and an unexpectedly poignant cello comes in, telling the listener everything the lyrics don’t need to spell out. “Chicago” is also nicely ambiguous; the effectively concise lyrics let us know that the windy city holds some great significance for the narrator; it’s either a place to hurry and get to on a road trip or a place to leave behind (or both). A sense of real sorrow not quite shared is palpable.

On the lighter side, the opening “Breakup Dress” wryly recites a litany of objects needed to put a relationship out of its misery: “I need a breakup dress, breakup shoes/Breakup makeup and of course/Some breakup lingerie…6 breakup CDs/A breakup leather jacket…” It’s a comparatively spry little tune that is probably a real rouser in concert. Stylistically, Dean, Lindsley, and Russum are mining Indigo Girls territory, although without that outfit’s tendency to meander (and their apparent inability to end a tune in three minutes). They also reminded me at times of a less ethereal Hank Dogs (Scottish folk trio). The music is pretty sparse, though, in that folkie way; beyond Dean’s acoustic six-string, there is little instrumental adornment other than the minimal accompaniment provided on the aforementioned songs. And some songs, such as “You Make Me” and “Somewhere Across Town,” sound like little more than well-recorded demos; the former cries out for some sort of musical detail in the arrangement that simply isn’t there. These songs rise or fall on the strength of the harmonies (pleasant but not necessarily stellar, except on “Inside”) and Dean’s songwriting (solid and sometimes remarkably poignant).

The Honeyshakers have the ingredients necessary to refine the raw craft they display here; they already have promising musical instincts, and their voices blend nicely. Most significantly, though, Dean seems very thoughtful in her self-expression; songs may reflect weariness or cynicism at times, but nothing sounds lazy or tossed off. As Dean sings in “Cars on Sunday,” “I don’t need any help with my melancholia/It’s doing fine…” I’d bet on even better things for this outfit in the future, especially if they add a little more variety to their repertoire and maybe plug in once in a while. As for me, I’m gonna take a nap. All this contemplatin’ and stuff can sure wear a body down…

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