It has been a bit of a stop-go start getting into The Local Honeys. A last minute hitch delayed seeing them make their Birmingham debut at this same venue back in January. Likewise clashes didn't go in their favour when attending the SummerTyne Festival in the summer. It proved a case of good things come to those who wait when no hiccups impeded a Bonfire Night return to the Kitchen Garden and a chance to check out this highly rated touring duo out of eastern Kentucky.
First good news for Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs was a vastly increased turnout from the last visit and a point where they were just a handful of ticket sales short from a 'house full' sign. This is a testimony to the interest generated over the year and perhaps word getting around that they deliver a truly memorable and engaging show. Having now been fully engrossed in a two-hour Local Honeys gig, there is full concurrence with this sentiment and the firm prediction that we are going to hear a lot more from these two talented musicians in the coming years.
Hailing from the Appalachian coal mining area of eastern Kentucky provides a huge clue that the music style heavily leans towards the traditional side. Strutting the fault line where country music meets folk, bluegrass and old time roots, our two protagonists explore every crevice possible to seek the influence of song, or perhaps hollow to draw on a touch of local vocabulary. They adopt the caricature of southern lore purveyors to varying degrees, both natural and enhanced. Voices come straight out of a mountain haze, while the stringed procession of guitar, banjo and fiddle resonate from any homely shack fine tuning the sounds of the past.
The music and songs (both of an original and traditional origin) play a large, yet not sole part in what The Local Honeys bring to the live music experience. The interaction, chat, passionate approach to their craft and affable personalities weigh heavy in appeal as the pair steer down roads of serious social commentary alongside showing admirable camaraderie to their kinfolk, both geographically and musically.
The Local Honeys are two albums into their recorded journey with clear plans afoot to build on this in the near and distant future. Songs from the setlist called in on their debut record from 2017 and an album full of diverse gospel songs that has just been released. Alongside these, the duo frequently dipped into the traditional well and paid tribute to artists such as the Carter Family, Shirley Collins and Joan Ritchie, the latter in the guise of the much covered and loved song 'The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore'.
The plight of local Kentuckians adversely affected by controversial mining practices featured high on the duo's social agenda, in tandem with the environmental catastrophe of techniques like blowing the top off mountains to mine coal. These extended into substance issues afflicting many in the own counties and wider state including the prevalence of prescription addiction. This was highlighted on a personal scale by a song Montana wrote for a friend.
Interspersing the stern stuff was plenty of lighter moments and informative chat like the duo returning to the UK in the new year to open for Tyler Childers. From a musicianship perspective, the display was of the highest degree (an often given from touring American old time stringed bands). Linda Jean majored on guitar and fleeting fiddle, while Montana found comfort and pleasure in the banjo along with occasional guitar. They were not going to let a near sold out crowd go home without a yodel and a firm stamp of delivering a show that was both memorable and uplifting in equal proportions.
As much as I would like to whole heartedly bless the recorded music of The Local Honeys, it is near impossible to detach it from the riveting live experience. A doubled edged pill that does create a logistical challenge in perpetual touring, but the live arena is where the true treasures lie. Luckily, we look set to have plenty of opportunities in the future to enjoy the music of Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs. They ensured a Birmingham Bonfire Night had as much sparkle in the Kitchen Garden as in the many November 5th displays around the city.
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