Tuesday, April 20, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1467: The Honey Dewdrops

This is my second straight review where the album title begins with “If.” In commemoration of this coincidence, I will try to fill the next minute with 60 seconds worth of metaphorical distance run.

Disc 1467 is…. If The Sun Will Shine

Artist: The Honey Dewdrops

Year of Release: 2009

What’s up with the Cover?  Some kind of painting or maybe fabric work? I’m not a big fan, as this feels “crafty” but not in a “just my type” kind of way. I would have preferred they had just stuck to an awkward photo of the band, as is tradition for a folk record.

How I Came To Know It: I was already a fan of the Honey Dewdrops from other records, so this was just me digging through their back catalogue on Bandcamp. This one was no longer available in CD format, so I waited around for a few months staring at my shoes. Eventually, I relented and bought it as a download.

How It Stacks Up: I have three Honey Dewdrops albums. Of those three, I rank “If the Sun Will Shine” at #3. And since this is the last album of theirs in my collection, here’s the full accounting:

  1. Tangled Country: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 1405)
  2. Silver Lining: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 1288)
  3. If the Sun Will Shine: 3 stars (reviewed right here)

 Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4

Real folksy, friends. I mean, downright. That’s the Honey Dewdrops, the bluegrass duo of Laura Wortman and Kagey Parrish, and “If the Sun Will Shine” is them at their most traditional.

If you came here because you liked Taylor Swift’s last couple of albums and wanted more of that, you will be disappointed. Taylor Swift’s last couple of indie folk records were excellent (I love both of them) but that’s not this.

However, if you have a hankering for variations on 1-4-5 chord progressions and instruments played with heart and precision, then this record is for you. Because Wortman and Parrish can really play. As in, “make your heart sing and your eyes tear up” kind of play. The guitar work on the record is particularly stellar (they both play guitar, so without the aid of liner notes, I have no idea who to praise).

Also noteworthy is the sublime mandolin soloing on “1918” (again, no idea who to credit). “1918” is instrumental that captures what it must have felt like when the war ended in 1918. Hearing the song evoked images of soldiers dancing around with their brothers in arms when the armistice is announced, tearful wives racing down long dirt roads, throwing themselves into the arms of their lovers while they’re still unloading their rucksack from the bus. It is the most joyous expression of “home at last” that you’ll ever hear, and it is all over in a sublime 90 seconds, leaving you wanting more.

Laura Wortman’s singing is beautiful as ever. The duo always create beautiful harmonies, but on “If the Sun Will Shine” Wortman’s vocals feel a bit more prominent than on later records I’ve heard. Parrish is happy to help paint around the edges, adding depth and echo.

The production on the record is so sparse as to be almost non-existent. In other words, how I like it. You might as well just hang a mic from the middle of the ceiling and let the two of them get after it. In terms of songwriting, the Honey Dewdrops do what you’re supposed to do in the genre; find new and beautiful stories in some well-established structures, and make a little timeless of your own.

“If the Sun Will Shine” is early in the band’s work and feels raw in places. I like the nuance they manage on later albums, but there is a real homespun quality in this early stuff that also appeals. These are tunes that sound best when heard in the open air, cascading down some wild and remote mountains, right before some of the locals invite you over for some afternoon lemonade on the porch.

But just to remind you, these tunes are very traditional. The kind of thing the Carter Family might break out, only with better sound and stereo production. If you like old school bluegrass like I do, then this is your glass of lemonade.  If not, I’d still encourage you to give it a try anyway. If it’s not to your liking, I’ve got a sidebar full of music just to the right you can still choose from.

Best tracks: Bluest Blue Eyes, Wandering Boy, 1918, Nowhere to Stand, When Was the War

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