Bands must love Jack of the Wood: The downtown bar comes with a built-in crowd that often fills the venue to capacity on Friday and Saturday nights. But guaranteed crowd doesn't mean guaranteed supporters, so at a recent Honeycutters show, the relatively new country act made quick work of turning a room full of strangers into fast fans. (Guitarist Peter James went so far to point out that the show was the band's second as a full outfit, and that Jack of the Wood is the venue they want to play.)
The band, fronted by singer/songwriter Amanda Anne Platt, started its set with the churn and minor key of "Mr. Cody," a dark and foreboding number ("I hear you waiting outside in your red Chevrolet, just the sound of the engine makes me feel so afraid") with a Johnny Cash-like bass line.
The song — that one and others, like spooky "Boneyard" and driving, twangy "Marie" — says country in the sincerest sense, but the Honeycutters aren't afraid to push the boundaries. Theirs is not a sound of wild experimentation, but instead of wrench-tight arrangements and tasteful embellishments. Spencer Taylor's mandolin plays closer to jazz than bluegrass, his solos flirt with psychedelia. Bassist Ian Harrod lends harmonies here and there and can turn on a dime from structured bottom-end notes to downright flashy solos. James provides a solid foundation and his backup vocals flesh out each song. The guitarist's high harmonies are a nice complement to Platt's low and dusky singing voice and, it's worth noting, that as good as the Honeycutter's recently released album, Irene, sounds through headphones, the band sounds even better live.
One thing about the Honeycutters is that they're genuine. Aside from excellent musicianship, there's no unnecessary glitter to this band. For all the shuffling two-step beats, there's nary a pearly button shirt nor a Stetson to be found. Platt is the one performer on stage in Western boots, and hers are hidden under jeans.
The other thing is the song writing: These are universal songs that breathe new life into mundane ideas. "The tattooed angel on my chest is faded and I'm still waiting with these ribbons in my hair. Well baby, that don't hardly seem fair," Platt sings on the slow waltz "On My Mind."
Many of the Honeycutters songs are wistful if not nostalgic, but Platt and the band aren't afraid to pick up the tempo ("In the Money," "Waiting in the Morning") or to test drive new material. When introducing new piece "Ain't it the Truth," Platt revealed that the song was inspired by Jack of the Wood's also new Truth beer. "They say I'd have to be a fool to love you like I do," the frontwoman sings on the honky tonk-inspired tune.
There's a worn and comfortable feel to each number, instantly familiar like a chestnut from the the heyday of Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline. And while the Honeycutters are no throwback act, their songs are ones that, if people still packed quarters into jukeboxes, would wear grooves in the records.
The Honeycutters play The Highland Brewery tasting room on Jan. 15 and the Old Fairview Southern Kitchen on Jan. 22. Full schedule at www.myspace.com/thehoneycutters.