The Honeycutters at Slash Root

Unexpected circumstances have kept me from writing lately, but now that I finally have the opportunity to express my thoughts about music and musicians again, there is a band I saw a month ago that I have been wanting to write about. Better late than never, and these guys certainly warrant a glowing review.

Warm vocals, hearty songwriting, and rich music are all components that make bands great. The Honeycutters, hailing from North Carolina, have all of those components — and boy are they great. They played in New Paltz, NY on May 21 at Slash Root, a new coffee and computer cafe in the building that formerly hosted 60 Main. The town was lucky to have them, and everyone who was at the show knew it.

The music of The Honeycutters is folk at its purist. In its entirety the band consists of Amanda Platt on vocals and guitar, Peter James on vocals and guitar, Spencer Taylor on mandolin, Ian Harrod on bass and vocals, Sven Svencent on electric triangle, and Richard Foulk on drums. Touring and playing at Slash Root, however, were Amanda and Peter as a duo. Their voices and playing bear a marked humanity, and they sing about topics concerning the human condition — such as songs of suffering, love, and loss — evoking a wanderlust in the listener. The melodies are incredibly haunting, the lyrics brilliantly poetic. The songs are sad, yet infinitely comforting; this is most clearly seen and heard in the title track of their debut album, “Irene.”

All of the songs The Honeycutters played at Slash Root were breathtaking originals written by Amanda, except for a Steve Earle cover. They played slow ballads, up-tempo swing numbers, and a few bluesy tunes as well. Armed with two guitars, two voices, and a whole lot of powerful songs, The Honeycutters delivered an uncomplicated and potent performance. Amanda has a truly gorgeous tone to her voice and it’s full of character, as is Peter’s. The latter’s guitar playing leads the musical narrative of each song, while Amanda’s voice does the same for the vocal narrative. This isn’t your stereotypical weepy folk music, however. It’s not the wallowing kind, even if the songs have a sad theme (as many of them do). It’s just pure, human expression, and that’s a powerful thing. Not only do The Honeycutters pour their hearts into the music they play, something that’s not to be underrated, but they have the technique to back them up as well. There’s definitely something special about two guitars and two voices, especially when the playing and singing is by Amanda and Peter. Throughout their songs the guitar ebbs and flows, creating weighty dramatic tension in the music. The patterns and rhythms found in each song vary immensely, and there’s an intensity to their music and personalities that’s hard to describe. The Honeycutters’ music is simplistic, but not simple. That simplicity allows both audience and musicians to focus on the immense quality of each song.

As The Honeycutters put so perfectly in their aptly named sing along called, well, Sing-Along, “I got a song that makes me want to sing along, and I don’t care if I got the words all wrong.” That’s precisely how the music of The Honeycutters makes me feel. It’s decidedly fragrant of hard living, lost love, and life on the road, but all the same I find it deeply satisfying. It has the ability to evoke emotion and breaks down defenses, filling the listener with heart and spirit. The sounds that Peter draws from his guitar are deep-throated and resonate with a preciously fleeting urgency, as does his own voice, while both Amanda’s voice and guitar are higher and equally precious. The two musicians and their respective guitars are the perfect balance of masculine and feminine, and their music is a beautiful marriage of those two opposites. In case I haven’t said it enough, these guys have got plenty of heart. It’s obvious their music is a part of them, and they make it a part of you too.

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