“He plays guitar, and she writes and sings the songs.”—This was the quick summation one might give about the Asheville, NC duo The Honeycutters during its first seven or eight years of existence. Guitarist Peter James was the wizard of wood and wire, while Amanda Anne Platt was the sweet voice to give words to the music. Others joined in as time went on, but the twosome was the Honeycutters’ nucleus, and the same old comparisons to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Gram and Emmylou were trudged out to help describe their “Americana” sound that was some parts Appalachian bluegrass, some parts singer/songwriter material, and some parts honky tonk revival.
With this original lineup, The Honeycutters released a couple of albums: Their debut Irene in 2009, and When Bitter Met Sweet in 2012. Both earned praise from local media and a national listening audience alike, but the band’s new album Me Oh My is something a shade different. Where before Amanda Platt may spend long periods staring at her shoes while Peter James played improvised flourishes and traded licks with The Honeycutters’ other members, Me Oh My sees the focus sharpen distinctly on the songstress. It records the blossoming of Amanda Platt in the role of producer and bandleader to let the full breadth of her expressions breathe without having to do battle with anyone or anything else for the listener’s attention.
“Appalachian Honky Tonk” is what The Honeycutters choose to describe Me Oh My as. “Honky Tonk” might be a little heavy of a term, though there is an undercurrent of hardscrabble, beer soaked sentiments here that give the music some body and grit compared to your average folky songwriter fare. As a 2011 finalist of MerleFest’s prestigious Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, this is the first time Aamanda Platt has a chance to be fully in charge, and it’s the songs that get pushed to the front while the rest of the band cheerfully plays the role of willing accomplices.
Songwriting is what everyone loves to praise these days. There’s so many amazing pickers in the present era who spend years perfecting their craft, the discipline is slowly transitioning from exceptional to commonplace. However writing a good song is something technical proficiency and dedicated practice can never assure.
Meanwhile Amanda Platt’s songwriting could be placed in the exceptional category, at least from the evidence Me Oh My presents in her favor. It’s not just the sorrow and sincerity, it’s the insight and the resonance. Songs like “All You Ever” and “Not That Simple” exemplify this top shelf quality to her music, while the mood of Me Oh My very much takes on the perspective of a young woman moving ever so closer to middle age, and mindful of not just the changes in herself, but in the world as it reflects back on her.
The role of North Carolina in this music is also not to be lost, though it doesn’t narrow the scope to a specific geographic region as much as give this album a sense of place and home that every listener can relate to. Released on North Carolina’s Organic Records, there’s a bit more support behind this project, and a little bit more push beyond Platt’s North Carolina footprint.
Let’s not completely overlook the efforts of the band either. Mandolin player Tal Taylor has been a pillar of the Honeycutters sound for a while now, Matt Smith steps in for Peter James playing many of the lead guitar licks, while Rick Cooper on bass and Josh Milligan on drums round out the rhythm. If anything, Me Oh My leaves you wanting a little bit more emphasis on these talented individuals. You can tell in moments The Honeycutters are not just a songwriter’s band but a gathering of top notch musicians, but again, the emphasis is Amanda, so the lead parts are buried just slightly so you never lose sight of the heart of the song.
It’s not that The Honeycutters’ previous projects undercut Platt’s abilities by any stretch, but Me Oh My is the 14-song testament that you sense could be the centerpiece of her career when it’s all said and done. And though you might think of Amanda Platt as a songwriter first and then a singer, when she does give herself a chance to step out, like when she tests her range on “Wedding Song,” she shows herself more than just capable.
Whether by design or dictation of circumstance, Amanda Platt steps into the role as premier songwriter in Me Oh My, and The Honeycutters are better off for it. This is a band, an album, and a songwriter that both the Americana and country world should pay greater attention to.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up
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