Two local groups debut new albums and stage release performances

SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF THIS: The Moon and You, left, wrote their kid-and-parent-friendly lullaby collection, "Big Mystery," based on a request for “a good album for babies.” Meanwhile, Amanda Anne Platt describes her live album with The Honeycutters, right, as “kind of a career survey.” The Moon and You illustration by Julie Armbruster, Amanda Anne Platt & The Honecutters photo by Sandlin Gaither

The Moon and You — the wife-and-husband songwriter duo of Melissa Hyman and Ryan Furstenberg — has released four albums to date. Country/Americana band Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters’ catalog includes four full-length releases as well. But for both of the Asheville-based acts, 2019 brings the addition of something very different to their respective bodies of work. Big Mystery, an all-local, star-studded effort led by The Moon and You, is a studio collection of lullabies for young children. Meanwhile, Live at The Grey Eagle represents the first live album from Platt’s group, a rousing set that draws from both new material and Honeycutters classics. Each group celebrates its new music with a live show at The Grey Eagle: Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters on Friday, June 21; and The Moon and You on Sunday, June 23.

Get what you need

Amanda Anne Platt launched her recording career in 2009 with Irene. Now — after countless live shows and three more albums of original material — she’s ready to revisit some of the songs on her debut release. “I wanted [Live at The Grey Eagle] to be kind of a career survey,” she says. “I like that term. There are a few songs on it that we don’t do very often in our live set, but we keep most of the old stuff alive.”

She says that the band is sometimes ready to pull something out of its back catalog if it’s requested. And that mindset helped determine the set list for the Grey Eagle shows, recorded on two consecutive nights last November. “I had actually done a little survey on Facebook about what people wanted to hear on the album,” Platt says. “So I tried to represent that as best I could.”

A decade older and presumably wiser, Platt nonetheless says that she still recognizes the young songwriter who wrote tracks like “Better Woman” from Irene and “Getting Good at Waiting” from 2012’s When Bitter Met Sweet. “I still find more meaning from a lot of the songs that I wrote when I was in my late teens and early 20s,” she says.

Platt does concede that today the songs don’t all sound exactly the way they might have 10 years ago. “There are definitely little differences in instrumentation, just as the band has grown and changed a little bit,” she says. “But above all, I’ve just gotten more comfortable in my voice. I don’t sound like such a shaky kid.”

Live at The Grey Eagle isn’t just a “greatest hits onstage” collection. The Honeycutters serve up three previously unreleased songs: “18 Wheels,” “The Low Road” and “Holy Wall.” And the band reinvents some older songs — “Carolina,” from its 2015 album Me Oh My, for example — giving them new and different arrangements. And though the live recording showcases Platt’s heartfelt, classic country-influenced songwriting, a pair of left-field covers makes the album an even more varied set.

Platt says that the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” — a hit single from the Gibb brothers’ pre-disco days — is “a song that we had been covering on the road a lot last year. It just felt like something I wanted to record because I like singing it.” The band also appends its reading of Platt’s “Diamond in the Rough” (originally on the group’s self-titled 2017 album) with a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Platt explains how the medley came about. “The first time I ever played ‘Diamond in the Rough’ for my buddy Kevin Smith, he started poking fun at me because the chords are basically the same. He said, ‘You know what you gotta do …’ But for a long time, we didn’t do it.”

The occasion of recording The Honeycutters’ first live album seemed like a perfect opportunity. “You can’t do it better than the Stones,” Platt admits, “but it’s kind of funny: ‘Here’s the same chords!’ It’s a fun thing to do.”

As enjoyable as the band’s previous albums are, Live at The Grey Eagle manages to document something that a studio recording can’t capture: the musicians’ rapport with the audience. “Whatever all the crazy, stressful, annoying parts of doing music for a living are,” Platt says, “it’s still a privilege to get to do that. And I remind myself before each show: ‘I chose to be here. I’m glad to be here. This is what I love to do.’”

WHO: Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters with Tina and Her Pony
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Ave.,
WHEN: Friday, June 21, at 9 p.m. $15 advance/$20 day of show

Rock-a-bye everybody

Around the time that Fisher Dolan celebrated his second birthday, his parents’ frustration reached the breaking point. His dad, Gene, brought his problem to his friend Melissa Hyman. “The music out there for babies is terrible!” he said. “I need you and Ryan to make a good album for babies. Please.”

Hyman says that the timing was perfect. She and husband Ryan Furstenberg “had already been thinking about doing a couple of lullabies, so it really worked out.” With Dolan’s financial support — he’s the project’s executive producer — the couple began work on Big Mystery.

Credited to The Moon and You and Friends, the new album builds upon the musical approach of the duo’s previous work, with Furstenberg’s acoustic guitar and Hyman’s cello as key ingredients in the instrumental mix. “We wanted every song on Big Mystery to sound like a dreamscape,” Hyman says. But, for this project, they’re joined by many of their cohorts from the Asheville musical community.

“Gene had a list of people he had already contacted,” Furstenberg says.

“A lot of the guest artists are some of his very favorite Asheville all-stars, and ours, too,” Hyman says. “It was so cool to get that list and see how much it overlapped with people who we would always want to work with.”

Hyman says that matching up singers with the songs — mostly originals with a few classics mixed in — was “a fun game. I felt like Stephanie Morgan’s voice would be perfect for ‘Mystery.’ And Laura Blackley on ‘Local Bird’ … that felt like a no-brainer.” Other guests on Big Mystery include two of Hyman’s bandmates from Cowboy Judy (Dulci Ellenberger and Amber Sankaran), Marisa Blake, River Whyless’ Daniel Shearin, Pierce Edens, Debrissa McKinney, Ross Montsinger and Kevin Williams from Moves, Megan Drollinger, Josh Phillips, Jackson Dulaney and Alyse Baca.

The resulting album presents a variety of vocal styles, but the unifying characteristic is that the songs are designed to appeal to kids while not driving their parents crazy. “Speaking for myself, I’ve always written pretty simple songs,” Hyman says. So some of her existing material lent itself to the lullaby approach.

“We didn’t sweat any of the arrangements,” Furstenberg says. Big Mystery is the third album on which he and Hyman have collaborated with friend and producer Ryan Lassiter. “It was just a continuation of that production process,” he says.

Hyman emphasizes that while making a lullaby album was a departure for The Moon and You, it wasn’t a radical one. “It felt like a nice, simple challenge to make something that just sounded soothing and beautiful and uncomplicated,” she says.

Some artists road-test new material before recording it. Hyman and Furstenberg did that for Big Mystery‘s songs … sort of. “A couple of them were already written for actual babies,” Hyman says with a giggle. “And the babies they were written for seemed to love them.”

But grown-ups figure into the mix, too. “Gene was rumbling about the lack of music that adults could enjoy as well,” Furstenberg says. “So we tried to make it a lulling album for anyone.”

WHO: The Moon and You
WHERE: The Grey Eagle
WHEN: Sunday, June 23, at 2 p.m. $10 advance/$12 day of show

About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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