This post was written by Christopher Graham, one of the winners of our Review Contest! Thanks to Chris for this awesome work. Look forward to reading more from him soon.
The Honey Dewdrops, Silver Lining, Jeff Oehler/Beehive Productions, Caleb Stine & The Honey Dewdrops, 2012.
The Honey Dewdrops’ third album, Silver Lining, contains the best examples of tight male-female harmonies, with simple acoustic arrangements one can find today. Featuring Kagey Parrish and Laura Wortman, the Honey Dewdrops are based in central Virginia, have toured for four years, appeared on national radio programs, and are receiving the accolades of Americana music critics everywhere. This review will be no less favorable. The songs here feature nimble guitar duos, or Parrish’s guitar and Wortman’s pulsing clawhammer banjo. Several songs have added bass and mandolin without losing the intimate quality of a married couple huddled around a pot-bellied stove on winter’s night. While the comparison is admittedly tedious, they do bring to mind a better-known duo; but the Honey Dewdrops match Gillian and David step-for-step in the intimacy and power of their harmonies and ability to create a timeless—yet thoroughly contemporary–constellation with their instrumentations and lyrics.
All songs, except the last, the acapella “Bright Morning Stars,” are original, and two of them (“Catawba” and “Somerset”) are perky instrumentals. “Hard to Pray” and “Let Me Sing” are somewhat generic pleas for personal autonomy, “Hills of My Home” is a lament about the many betrayals of coal mining, and all the offerings are marked by determined—even upbeat—strums, beguiling banjo rolls, and sweet vocals.
This album is anchored by a series of songs inspired by Parrish and Wortman’s years on the road, away from home and loved ones. It chronicles separation, yearning, and the unpleasant negotiations over the limited satisfactions available to those apart. “One Kind Word,” with Parrish on lead, offers to deny all worldly pleasures for “the little bit you promised me.” The archaic-sounding “No More Trouble,” helmed by Wortman, peers into the doubt that separation often causes, with a narrator awakened in the middle of the night, paranoid with “worry worry baby at quarter to 2.” The title track, “Silver Lining,” declares again the comfort a little contact can provide, but by its title alone suggests the simultaneous inadequacy and inherent disappointment of that contact. “Happiness” negotiates a compromise between the seductive life on the road and the settled blandness of home: “And happiness ain’t happiness/It’s a compromise/ More or Less/I’m more at peace being reckless/And happiness has got nothing to do with happiness.” “Together Tied” is the most straightforward description of separation and yearning felt by a touring musician.
Woe to the listener who hears Silver Lining while separated from a loved one (as is this reviewer). For the simple arrangements, these intimate songs have unsettling emotional power, as they combine the hope of happiness and love with the tenuousness and doubt engendered by separation. It is a melancholy place where one has to be satisfied with silver linings. But that place rarely sounds so compellingly sweet and determined.