Some bands just get a buzz about them at certain points in their career and it seems that right now it’s Asheville North Carolina combo The Honeycutters‘ moment in the sun. Their last release, Me Oh My (2015) was listed in many year end top tens’ with special attention being paid to their focal point and chief songwriter, Amanda Anne Platt. Comparisons with Lucinda Williams and Mary Gauthier were bandied around but to our ears the singer, or more specifically the writer Platt reminded us of was Loretta Lynn, Platt being able to dig into the ups and downs of a relationship with as much sass as the venerable Ms. Lynn.
On The Ropes continues Platt’s examination into the foibles and follies of man meets woman. The album title and title song along with the artwork, the inner sleeve a close up of Platt’s bandaged hands draped around a guitar, might suggest a rather pugnacious approach however many of the songs feature her straining to hold onto, recapture or recover from bruised relationships, sometimes defiant, sometimes shattered. Her voice is wonderful, just the right amount of country angst while the band are the perfect seconds, crafting bittersweet country rock with occasional bursts of honky tonk hoots.
Platt opens the album proclaiming, “I’ve been making something out of nothing for a long time now,” before the band kick in on the chiming title song, organ and mandolin duelling wonderfully on a defiant piece of writing. The gentle country shuffle of Blue Besides follows, Platt’s voice powerful as she explains that love “ain’t black and white.” The soulful country blues of Golden Child then glides into view, a regretful shrug of the shoulders from Platt singing, “I’ve been a stranger here before. I’ve been a soldier, I’ve been the war. I’ve done my time on the wrong side of the door.” A song about past glories and being supplanted by the latest attraction it’s a weird mix of A Star Is Born and Delaney and Bonnie’s Superstar (Groupie). This Southern soul soup is revisited on The Only Eyes and Back Row, the latter somewhat punchier while there’s a creamy country feel to Useless Memories and A Piece Of Heaven.
There are a couple of detours that sit somewhat uncomfortably within the confines of the album. The Handbook is an upbeat number that approaches Texan swing with Platt jauntily singing about the qualities of a real man while the one cover here, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, nicely delivered though it is, is probably best kept for a live performance. Then again perhaps our American cousins weren’t subjected to the plethora of versions that hit the UK a few years ago.
They’re firmly back on track for the rollicking country honk of Let’s Get Drunk, sure to be a live favourite while Platt offers up a very fine story in best Texas troubadour style on the closing Barmaid’s Blues with its shades of Guy Clark.