Honeybucket is based in Cleveland, Ohio and their sound is aggressive. It’s not your grandpa’s bluegrass music, singing about the Kentucky fields or North Carolina hills. No, this is a sound that transcends the traditional and sharp-cutting style. Spearheading the efforts to define newgrass, Honeybucket are a band to keep an ear on for the next several years. They are here to stay.
The opening track “Ohio” is a distinctly northern tune. I say that not to provoke some sort of bizarre regionalism, but because it has chording that just wouldn’t fit with what I’d call “Appalachian” music. It’s dark, almost Puritanical, and feels like the cool temperatures of the anomic North. That said the upbeat newgrass style is fascinating. It’s the kind of song that I can listen to over and over, continually asking, “how did they do that?” Dark, complex, and full of plot twists, it’s an adventurous track for sure.
The second track is about stealing a kiss from the mayor’s daughter and, “now I’m standing here a wanted man.” It’s a slightly-humorous oeuvre about the complexity of politics, corruption, and forbidden love. Stylistically it’s a bit more traditional than the opener, but it still has more elements of jazz than what we might consider mainstream bluegrass. The plot intrigue makes the song, but the harmonies are up to the Honeybucket standard.
“Honey for my baby” is probably the best song on the album. The harmonies are deep and rich. The instrumentation is more traditional and the sound really works. There’s a sort of “yee haw” urgency in the voice of the lead singer. “Everybody drinks my whiskey… put another dollar in the bucket… won’t you do it again?” It seems to be a sort of theme song for the band. They sing, party, and pass around a bucket for donations. It’s a fun track.
“First Winter” is a feel-good track with harmonies that work really well. “Flash back to that first winter… our hands covered in snow. Now I feel that snow melting and I don’t know where to go.” What a great image, right? It’s about meeting, but it’s also about that “it” factor leaving a relationship. How self aware and engaging these guys are! It’s a perceptive and smartly written song that’s sure to make Honeybucket a lot of fans.
The very title of “Summer Shandy” reminds me of baseball games and tall brews. It’s a great toe-tapping song that invokes dancing and celebration. Oh but it’s instrumental. It’s still a dance song and the mandolin really shines on this one. It has a kind of jam beat that is more jazz than country, although the percussion-heavy traditional instrumentation is pretty far from conventional jazz. It’s a great piece of Americana.
The final track “Old High Road” brings us back to the harmonies that really make Honeybucket shine. The rhythm section provides a nice base on this one, allowing the high strings and vocals to almost soar over the rest of the instrumentation. It’s about finding the “high road” that can lead a man back to his lover. It’s a quaint and very traditional track that keeps roots country alive. It’s always nice to find a track that you can dance to with your grandparents.
All told Honeybucket are an endearing band. It’s nice to know that there are people keeping these artforms alive. And by alive, I mean that they aren’t just covering the classics. They’re writing new music with fresh perspectives using these seemingly timeless techniques. This album is an absolute must own for fans of roots country music, bluegrass, and even Americana. Consider grabbing a copy for the old timers you know; show them that “real music” lives on in the strumming and singing of a small group in Ohio.