Country Spotlight: The Local Honeys
Time: 1:00 pm
Country Spotlight airs the first Thursday each month at 1 pm during Cosmic American Jamboree, and can be heard over the air at 91.1 FM, streaming at wtju.net, or by asking your smart speaker to “Play WTJU.”
Though many artists are defined by place, only a handful of artists come to define the places they’re from. The Local Honeys are Kentucky and Kentucky runs through their veins like an unbridled racehorse. When a master songsmith like Tom T Hall calls an artist “a great credit to a wonderful Kentucky tradition” it’s time to pull up a chair and pay attention. As it pertains to The Local Honeys he was right on the money. For almost a decade the duo (Montana Hobbs and Linda Jean Stokley) have been an integral part of the Kentucky musicscape. They’ve paid their dues, garnering countless accolades and accomplishments (tours with Tyler Childers, Colter Wall, praise from the New York Times) and have become the defining sound of real deal, honest-to-god Kentucky music.
With their self-titled debut on La Honda Records, (home of some of today’s most gifted songwriters; Colter Wall, Riddy Arman, Vincent Neil Emerson) the duo have set forth on a journey to create something true to themselves while pushing the envelope within the traditions they hold dear. Carefully crafted vignettes of rural Kentucky soar above layers of deep grooves and rich tones masterfully curated by longtime mentor Jesse Wells, Grammy nominated producer and musician (Assistant Director at the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music at Morehead State). “Jesse grew up with sisters. He was cut from the same cloth as us and we knew he would understand what we wanted to do.” What they ended up with is the most nuanced, moody, deep-holler sound they have captured to date. “This is the first time we’ve actively gotten to express who we are and where we’re from” says Linda Jean, “The songs on the album speak for us,” adds Montana “they’re about what we know, reflections of us as people. We realized we have the power to add our own narrative into Kentucky music.” Through that realization the two were able to uncover and dissect themes unique to Central Appalachia and in turn their own lives, capturing small moments in time that deliver thunderous results.
Throughout The Local Honeys, the duo demand to be interpreted as creators and storytellers, not just purveyors of tradition. Similarly, the sounds captured within the project cement their place as innovators and rule breakers. Rollicking banjo meets overdriven guitar hooks and blue collar rural grit is met with lush melodies and nimble harmonies; it’s a project filled with juxtaposition and it isn’t by accident. It’s reflective of who they are and who they run with. Wells along with The Food Stamps rhythm section – Rod Elkins (percussion) Craig Burletic (bass) and Clay City, KY’s irreplaceably one-of-a-kind Josh Nolan (guitar) all lent their expertise and signature groove as collaborators during the session creating a fluidity, warmth and cohesion that can only be created through friendship. The project was engineered in Louisville at Lalaland by Grammy winner Anne Gauthier.
The songs on The Local Honeys speak to a new generation, a new Appalachian, the people who understand the beauty, the struggle and the complexity of contemporary Appalachian life. In “The Ballad of Frank and Billy Buck,” Hobbs describes the grace, humor and irony of an aging hillbilly leading up to the final moments of his unjust demise. Or there’s “If I Could Quit,” a song that grapples with the horrors of the ongoing opiate epidemic and the guttural pain of watching a friend deteriorate through addiction. Pride and sense of place runs deep on songs like “Throw Me in the Thicket When I Die,” a love letter about Linda’s family orchard in Central KY. Playful colloquialisms and regional idiosyncrasies also permeate throughout the record as illustrated on “Better Than I Deserve,” a song built around an informal greeting Montana’s Papaw used throughout her childhood. The album is rounded out with “The L and N Don’t Stop Here No More,” (the only cover on the record written by Appalachian royalty and kin to Hobbs, Jean Ritchie) a song highlighting the hardships of post coal communities painting an all too familiar scene of contemporary rural Appalachia. Reflecting upon these songs Linda notes, “Songwriting can freeze people in time like a photograph, preserving little nuances particular to specific cultures and I love that.”
The Local Honeys come from a long line of storytellers, a lineage of strong Kentucky women that aren’t afraid to tell it like it is and their self-titled La Honda debut is proof it’s in their bones. The duo have mastered the art of telling a good story. The narratives and landscapes they weave into song, the deep understanding and love they share for old time traditions, their undeniable charisma and charm, and their blatant disregard to follow the rules make it clear the duo is poised to become not only the defining voices of their home state of Kentucky but the defining voices of a new Appalachia.