Stonehoney – The Cedar Creek Sessions (Music Road, 2010)
Group harmonies are returning to country music, and they’re just as pleasing today as they were in the 1970s. You can feel the joy they bring to Stonehoney as they vocalize the wordless “oh-ahhh” exclamations on the opening track. They revel in the way their voices blend with one another’s, and then collectively with the songs’ emotion. It suggests what CS&N must have felt the night they first harmonized. What really makes this Austin quartet’s debut special is that it was recorded live, with no sweetening and no overdubs. The synergy of voices, instruments and songs honed on stage followed the group into the studio, giving these fourteen songs (culled from forty cut in two days!) a wonderfully organic feel. As vocalist/guitarist Nick Randolph writes on their website, “The band grew out of us just hanging out, and it still has that same feeling.”
All four members credit their vocals first, their instruments second, and they reconfigure the lead/harmony assignments from song to song. All four contribute original songs, as well, and the results lean on a variety of country, country-rock and southern-rock influences. The opening line of “I Don’t Want to Go Home” might fool you into thinking it’s sung by John Fogerty, but by the time the song gets to its cleverly crafted lyric “now that you’re gone, the house is like a heartache with a view,” the vocal blend has the richness of Alabama. The lead vocal of the road-warrior themed “White Knuckle Wind” has the earthy edge of Levon Helm, with twangy guitars and Earle Pool Ball’s piano adding honky-tonk sparks.
The foursome find several ways to express longing for departed mates, writing alternately as the one leaving and the one being left. There’s understanding rather than angst in the remains of these relationships, with sadness filling up the spaces where bitterness might have grown. When the relationships succeed, such as in “Lucky One,” they’re proclaimed with open-throated joy, and in “There is Light” there’s optimism at the end of a dark emotional tunnel. The album’s one resolutely downbeat track is Shawn Davis’ letter from jail, “Good as Gone,” filled with somber reflections whose regret can’t turn back the clock on bad decisions. With four talented singer-songwriters, Stonehoney offers many different looks, but it’s their power as a group that’s truly arresting, and given the strength of these live-in-the-studio performances, they’re sure to be a killer stage act.