By Kerry Heffernan
What do you get when you cross a seasoned music veteran, a woman with an enchanting voice and serious guitar skills, and a guy who sings, writes songs and plays guitars and mandolin? Why, you get Honkytonk Homeslice, of course. Comprised of Bill Nershi, of the String Cheese Incident, Bill's wife Jilian, and Scott Law, this trio presents a powerful presence that rivals some of those bands who've been at it for years. The band's self-titled album is its first studio effort, and it seems that this group knows exactly what it's doing.
Now, with a name like Honkytonk Homeslice, you might expect to hear a lot of picking and plucking, hootin' and hollerin' on that band's album. But that's not what you get here. In fact, the only songs that are actually twangy - "Bear Creek Blues" and "Trouble No More" - don't make an appearance until the end of the album. However, that doesn't change the beauty of the music of this collection. This record is engorged with true talent. Easy bluegrass and country that hails from the time when musicians were actual songwriters are the bulk of this compilation, and Honkytonk Homeslice does both genres the justice they rightfully deserve. The individual talent of each of these three musicians gives this album its jolt of life. The combination of acoustic elements, offset with humble undertones of electric guitar and lap steel, give the record a full and developed sound that gives the illusion of a band that's been together for years. The songs are light and airy and extremely easy to listen to, and they provide a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the real world.
The vocal harmonies scattered throughout this CD are the main ingredients in the easiness of the songs. Tunes like "Shot in the Blue" and "Trouble No More" exemplify this sound. Jilian's sweet, alto voice is a bit redolent of the great Emmylou Harris and blends perfectly with Bill and Scott's lower ranges. All three voices are soft and smooth, which helps meld the tones together. In the song "Another River," Jilian takes on lead vocals. The lyrics of the song speak of the importance and respect of nature. The intonations flow throughout the song, just as a river flows through its path, and the delicate guitars help to perpetuate that flowing sensation. The acoustic and electric guitars are both present, but they know their place in the song and maintain their course as a light background addition to the words, rather than the focus of the music.
The same instruments heard in "Another River" are heard throughout this collection. These precise yet soft sounds are another example of the gentleness of this entire album. "Shot in the Blue" allows for the appearance of Bill's gentle dobro along with flowing guitars. "School Bells" adds some creativity to the tender atmosphere with romantic, slightly Spanish-infused guitar stylings. "Weary Homesick Blues" makes use of the guitar/mandolin combo so prevalent in the Garcia/Grisman recordings. The airy bluegrass tune even goes into a little jam half-way through the song, but it remains in such a state that you can almost imagine gently rocking in a hammock in a cool, shaded glen. Finally, "Magnolia Road" and "Sweet Peach" are both instrumental masterpieces. "Magnolia" is sprinkled with the acoustic guitar, while the beauty in "Peach" comes from the sighing sounds of the lap steel.
This record is so wonderfully relaxing that it's downright enchanting. You get pulled into the music, and suddenly, you don't have a care in the world. All that's important is the sound resonating from the speakers, and all focus and attention turn towards the music. This kind of power can't be produced unless the musicians putting it out there are truly talented. Honkytonk Homeslice is jam-packed with this talent. A very new band, still finding its footing, has created some beautiful pieces of work on their initial foray into the world of the studio album, and that is a great way to start.
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