A relentless and unmerciful expedition to unearth the essence of authentic Kentucky expressions captured in musical form will find one in the audience of Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs, known collectively as The Local Honeys. Already a decade of performing under their belt—including opening for staunch advocates such as Tyler Childers and Colter Wall—they are where other artists praised for their authenticity go to reset their compass to what is truly the “real deal.”
This all precedes the duo’s self-titled debut album. You don’t passively enjoy this album as much as you survive it. The death of people, horses, dogs, as well as drug addiction, destitution, at the husks of once vibrant communities left derelict by industry is what you will encounter on this harrowing, yet enriching exploration of authentic Kentucky. Produced by Jesse Wells of Tyler Childers’ Food Stamps, it’s fairly uninterested in the commercial application of any of this, and instead hopes that the sincerity of the expressions finds a more distinguishing and appreciative ear.
Don’t think of The Local Honeys exclusively as a harmony duo. Stokely and Hobbs instead take turns singing lead on original songs, and then the harmonies build in from there. Don’t think of this as solely a primitive and acoustic album either. Drums and often electric instruments are also featured behind more traditional instrumentation. In fact, one quibble with the album might be the lack of a few more intimate tracks where just these two ladies are featured by themselves. But the more modern textures perhaps help to broaden the audience for what still remains a quite severe version of music.
Commencing with a lament about a town where the kudzu has taken over, and the train doesn’t come through anymore, and ending with a personal request to simply be thrown into the thicket for the worms and critters to get at when one dies, this album is of Kentucky, and for Kentucky, and anyone else listening in is not much more than a gawking onlooker. Add in stories of the “Last Mule in the Holler,” one about a poor old guy and his dog who get done in by some hitchhikers, and a song about how the grieving process for dead horses lingers infinitely, if sad bastard music is what you seek, you most certainly won’t be disappointed.
But this album is not all pain, nostalgia, and hopelessness. Many of the tribulations native Kentuckians experience are quite modern. Drug addiction isn’t a scourge unique to Kentucky or the greater Appalachian region by any stretch, but it is even more ingrained and prevalent according to most accounts. This is addressed directly in the song “If I Could Quit.” The Local Honeys also bridge the Kentucky pastime of mushroom hunting with the emerging science concerned with how certain controlled doses of mushroom-based chemicals can help those with certain issues such as addiction or PTSD.
This is not an instrumental album, meaning that you don’t listen for the banjo rolls or the guitar solos. The job of the music is to set the mood for the songs and stories, and the banjo and fiddle from Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs are more reserved, folksy, and melodic. Again, the drums could have rested on a couple of tracks, but on the ragtime-sounding “Dear Woodrow” they help set the tone, and give the album an energy it may not otherwise have.
This is also not the album to slip in on your Jason Aldean-listening cousin it hopes of converting them away from the dark side of country music. Some of the writing is dense and requires digestion. But for those swept up in the insurgency of genuine Appalachian roots epicentered in Kentucky, The Local Honeys are close to essential within that realm, while perhaps delivering some of the most pure and bona fide expressions among it.
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