CD review by Tony Smith
This album by the Tasmanian ‘Americana’ group has 20 tracks in which they provide a good sample of the working class blues of the southern United States.
As Danny Spooner says in his introduction to the CD, this quartet do meticulous research and provide authentic versions of these songs and tunes, some famous and popular, others less well known.
The Honey Eaters are Stan and Rebecca Gottschalk and Steve and Jane Ray.
As well as giving ample details of the provenance of the pieces, including composition and recording history, the sleeve notes detail who is playing which instruments and who is singing.
So, for example, for the first track ‘Nancy Jane’, the list is as follows: JR fiddle, SR guitar, RG ukulele and kazoo, SG dobro; SR, RG, JR, SG vocals.
This is a simple code which other groups might well emulate.
Along the way, they break out banjo, banjo-ukulele, spoons and mandolin.
Apart from the tune types, variety is achieved by performing a couple of songs with voice alone, ‘Ezekiel Saw the Wheel’ and ‘Stratfield’, while SG sings ‘Kentucky Blues’ solo with guitar.
There are no vocals on the evocative instrumentals, ‘My Money’s All Gone’, ‘Mineola Rag’ and ‘Natchez-Under-the-Hill’.
The Cajun classic ‘Si Tu Voudrais’ is very different in style.
There are humorous pieces such as ‘The Preacher and Bear’ and ‘Jerusalem Moan’.
In the case of the latter, a more serious song with the same name is presented by way of contrast.
Their version of ‘Frankie and Johnny’, of which there are some 200 other versions, is quite poignant, although perhaps not as tragic as the concluding track, ‘Gonna Go to Work on Monday’.
This song tells of a man with byssinosis, or brown lung, commonly acquired by workers in cotton mills.
Typically, the songs on this CD are from the 1920s and 1930s.
They show the cross influences of gospel, bluegrass, blues and ragtime.
They acknowledge the seminal role of numerous musicians and groups of that era.
These include the Light Crust Doughboys, Lost City Ramblers, Hogwire String Band, the Carter Family, the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet, Jonny Lee Wills and His Boys, the East Texas Serenaders, Joe’s Acadians, the Red Cay Ramblers, the Nashville Bluegrass Band and Si Kahn.
While the songs favoured by the Honey Eaters might seem to belong to a bygone era, this album presents such an appealing variety of tunes so professionally, that every musician will be interested in the ways in which this era in this specific geographical area continues to influence broad genres from rhythm and blues to rock and roll, and from hip-hop to country music.
Apart from their contribution to musicology, the Honey Eaters have, through their skilful playing, singing and arrangements, produced a highly enjoyable album.
There is no need for a lyrics sheet because their diction is so clear.
This is another feature of the Honey Eaters from which other groups might learn.