Ben Jaffe and Suzanne Santo have been making music as HONEYHONEY for close to a decade. With Santo’s strong lead vocals, banjo, and violin melding together with Jaffe’s soft harmonies and lead guitars, they’ve garnered positive press and a loyal following by playing a raw and honest blend of country-influenced Americana that tilts less towards the timidity of a band like Mumford & Sons and more in the direction of the rugged sound of someone like Ryan Bingham. They’ve crisscrossed the country multiple times in a small touring van, chucked out material that hasn’t worked, and haven’t shied away from seeking that true sound they hear in their respective musical minds. Plus, according to their frequently used Twitter account (which also recently included a somewhat clever yet testy exchange with comedian/podcaster extraordinaire Marc Maron, in which they were defended by none other than Vernon Reid) they’re Cleveland sports fans, which is all right in my book.
And, like those Cleveland teams they cheer for, nothing comes easy. The duo has had to work hard and shuffle priorities on the fly without a whole lot of outside support or critical attention. Lost amongst the dissolution of Lost Highway Records and adrift in an unceasing end of dates as the opening act for small theater and amphitheater shows, Jaffe and Santo took matters more into their own hands by self-financing a lengthy U.S. tour, shuffling across the pond to Europe to open for Jake Bugg, and most importantly, using this time of upheaval and change to gather and write material that comprises their latest album, 3. Turning to producer Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson’s producer on his breakthrough, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music to help craft a more immediate and resonant feel, 3’s dozen tracks fit nicely into the expanding canon of recent non-trad country, left-of-the-dial releases that have been garnering a nice dose of support and positive reviews of late.
With a darker and weightier tone to the sound and a more personal sense of introspection to the lyrics, the album differs a bit from prior releases. The changes reflect all that they’ve endured over the past couple of years and take things down an interesting and wide-ranging route that eschews breezy toe-tappers in favor of more dark and harsh arrangements that cast an air of fiery desperation. It’s a band that seems to be on a mission to accomplish what they long ago to set to reach. There’s the soulful propulsion of “Back to You”, where Santo and Jaffe’s voices harmonize into a forceful roar gathered around a storm of hard driving rhythms. Elsewhere, “You and I” packs enough dramatic punch to fill in as a scene track on the hit TV drama, Nashville. Later, “God of Love” achingly pleads with higher powers for guidance in times of need and confusion, while one song later, “Swing Thing” sassily declares its’ selfish intentions with unrepentant embrace.
“I don’t want to fight with you baby/But it’s just that you’ve been in my way lately”, Santo matter-of-factly states over a whirl of soaring pedal steel, shuffling drums, rhythm acoustic guitar, and violin on “Yours to Bear”. It’s a striking opening line that asserts the newfound independence HONEYHONEY has been working towards over the years. Regardless of whether she’s speaking towards past managers, labels, or lovers, Santo makes you a believer as her strong voice crescendos towards the song’s climax where she declares: “You’re mine to share my days with now.” Listen to this song a few times and you too just may follow her and Jaffe wherever they take you.