Have you ever heard a song or artist that you immediately knew where they’re from and what to expect? It’s not all that common, but when it happens, I often find there’s an unusually deep connection with that song or artist moving forward. It’s like they allow you to know who they are immediately. There’s no digging around, trying to figure them out. What you see, or in this case, what you hear, is exactly what you get. It’s those artists that I find incredibly refreshing, and endearing.
The Local Honeys give you that immediate introduction. With their new self-titled release on La Honda Records, these two ladies have embodied the history, the people, the music, the dialect, the kindness, the love, and the beauty of what it means to be a Kentuckian. When you push play, you feel at home, immediately.
**Photo taken at my first Local Honeys show back in 2017**
That feeling was no accident. As the first two women to graduate from Morehead University with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Traditional Music Degree, Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs set a course to honor the traditional music that has been created here in Kentucky. As you’ll soon hear, that mission is accomplished, but with a twist. You can call this album a straight-up bluegrass album, but it’s much, much more. These ladies have struck a balance of traditional bluegrass that has an ever-expanding sound. You’ll hear banjo, fiddle, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, drums, an organ, and even a trumpet. Yes, you read that correctly, a trumpet.
Linda Jean and Montana have been on this trajectory for several years, and since their beginnings as a duo, one very important man has been a constant supporter, Professor Jesse Wells at Morehead University. There’s another reason that name may sound familiar, he’s also a member of The Foodstamps. The backing band of Mr. Tyler Childers. Jesse’s familiarity, knowledge, and unbelievable skill made him the perfect co-producer for this project. As a mentor, he’s almost an honorary Honey. His familiarity with The Honeys music and goals shine through like a mid-day’s Summer sun.
Professor Jesse Wells
The album was recorded in Louisville, Kentucky with Engineer Anne Gauthier at La La Land. As the band stated, “We wanted this record to not only sound like Kentucky, but to be made of it at its core.”
BUT, Jesse Wells didn’t show up alone at the studio though. Nope, he had two of his fellow Foodstamps, and an underrated Kentucky guitarist in Josh Nolan in tow. Foodstamps drummer Rod Elkins and bassist Craig Burletic provided the groove on this record, and there is absolutely no one better suited for this studio project. The chemistry of these musicians has been shaped over the years playing many of the same festivals, or from sharing bills with different projects over time. There’s a friendship there that allows a freedom that’s almost impossible to find with studio musicians who are often just hired guns with no attachment to the artists themselves. And…it’s beautiful.
Things kick off with the only cover on the album, and it’s the most perfect choice to tie everything that I just told you together. “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore,” by Jean Ritchie was the first song that came into my head when I first heard The Local Honeys. Ritchie was born and raised in my old stomping grounds of Perry County. She was an educator that also valued traditional hymns and music. She wrote many, many songs often accompanied by her instrument of choice, the dulcimer.
Montana takes the lead vocal this one, which considering she has lineage to Jean Ritchie, is definitely the correct choice. Hobbs’ banjo substitutes for Ritchie’s dulcimer, as the band provides a full sound scape to transport you to those hills of Perry County. The Local Honeys do a wonderful job maintaining the original melody, but putting their own spin on the overall track. Which is a wonderful tribute to Ritchie, who was one of, if not the strongest Appalachian voice to ever come out of those mountains. Her folk works are admired worldwide, and it’s only fitting that The Local Honeys tip their cap to Jean.
Hopefully, someday in the not too distant future, we just may see someone paying homage to The Local Honeys on their own release.
Enjoy this acoustic version of “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” from earlier in their career:
Next up is, “The Last Mule In The Holler.” Montana gets the vocal nod here as well. Hobbs has a history of showing mules at state and county fairs, a talent she was taught by her Father, Monte Hobbs. You can actually hear his voice in the song intro. He taught Montana everything he knew about mules. While this is about a specific mule by the name of “The Red Rooster,” who was once owned by Paul E. Stamper, the obvious nod to Monte is certainly not to be overlooked.
“The Red Rooster” was a World Grand Champion Walking Mule, and he is used brilliantly to tell the story. I find “The Last Mule In The Holler” to be my personal favorite vocal from Montana on this release, which is no surprise with the subject matter being so close to her heart.
“Dear Woodrow” sees Linda Jean take the lead vocal for the first time on this release. One of two songs on the album based on the celebrated novel, ‘Lonesome Dove,” from Larry McMurtry. “Dear Woodrow” is written from.the perspective of Woodrow’s love interest, Maggie Tilton. What’s delivered is a rollicking swing suited for a Saloon bar back in Lonesome Dove. Linda Jean paints the portrait of how strong of a woman Maggie was in an era where women were rarely respected. Choosing strength and happiness over an adulterous man frolicking around the Wild West, Maggie’s character is just as relevant today, as it would have been in the Old West.
I swear, I can close my eyes and envision a music video where The Local Honeys are playing in a Saloon filled with dusty cowboys, while the story unfolds and intertwines with their performance.
Now I mentioned a trumpet, remember? Welp, “Dear Woodrow” is where the trumpet by Will Phillips is introduced, and you’re gonna love it!!
Did someone say murder ballad? Oh good! Thank ya for mentioning that. “The Ballad Of Frank And Billy Buck,” is just what you were looking for. A tale of a fella named Frank. He doesn’t have much in this life. It seems as if his only friends are his dog Billy Buck and the bottom of a bottle. Based on a true story, Frank picks up some hitchhiking kids that felt that his time was up. In his dying moments, Frank was only worried about his dog, Billy Buck, who also met his end that day. This tune is the perfect example of the growth in songwriting from both Montana and Linda Jean. Storytellers that are stepping into their own place in history.
“Dead Horses” was the first single from this album, so rather than detail this one, I’m going to let you make up your own mind on this one, with one tiny interjection. The love of animals runs deep in many, but no one conveys their love in such a beautiful way, or better than Linda Jean Stokley. Enjoy!
The Linda Jean train continues rolling on with “Toadstool.” The first time I heard this song was back in 2021. I knew in that moment, at the Laurel Cove Music Festival, that The Local Honeys were about to unleash a genre bending magnum opus of an album.
With that, I’m extremely happy to say that the magic of that day will live forever with this recorded version. Written during the pandemic, Linda Jean delivers a hauntingly beautiful song that puts you right there in the loneliness and uncertainty we all felt. You are with her on a lonely walk amongst the trees. And if you don’t get chills when the guitar swells underneath the fiddle, I don’t know what to tell ya. I have ’em while I’m just typing about it! “Toadstool” is my 2nd favorite song from Linda Jean on this one, so stay tuned for the doozie that claims the top spot that’s coming your way very soon.
“Better Than I Deserve” is the song closest to my own heart. The song is the mantra of Hobbs Grandfather and tells the tale of his life succinctly. Why this song is so appealing to me on a personal level, is that I too have and have had Grandfather’s that lived amazing lives, but were incredibly humble. So much so, that a simple saying like “Better Than I Deserve,” is enough for them. They don’t want or feel they deserve the praise they truly earned. I’m glad that Montana recognized that trait and gave her Grandfather the story he deserves. This one is the latest single, so I urge you to enjoy this one right now.
“Dumbass, Nebraska” is the 2nd song based around ‘Lonesome Dove.’ That novel is a pretty well-known story, but Linda Jean finds a way to make it feel fresh and new once again. Much like “Toadstool”, Linda Jean adds some wonderful melodies that accompany the tale being woven. It also features the dynamic that I love wholeheartedly from The Local Honeys. When Montana holds down the lower registry and Linda Jean soars above. You just can’t beat those melodies!
Now comes the time that I tell you about the most important song on this album. “If I Could Quit” shines a light on the ugly truth that many find themselves within the opioid crisis that is ravaging through Appalachia. I’m saving my words on this one, because this topic deserves everyone’s attention, and Montana paints the perfect scenario of the plight so many face. If I could ask you one favor, it would be to seek out this song and if you’re able, be a part of the good fight. Appalachia needs us now more than ever.
Now, we end this album with the song that I never knew I couldn’t live without until I heard it live at Laurel Cove with a full band.
“Throw Me In The Thicket (When I Die),” could be a song about nonsense and it would not change my opinion one tiny bit. The structure, the harmonies, the musicianship, the experience that Linda Jean and Montana have created will be timeless. That goes for this entire album, if I’m being completely honest. The Local Honeys have found the balance required to move traditional bluegrass to modern era where anything is now possible. That, is incredibly exciting.
I’ll leave you with this, The Local Honeys self-titled release is an audible portrait of what it means to be a Kentuckian. The past, the present, and the future are all right there in these songs.
So pour yourself something to sip on, climb into your favorite chair, grab your headphones, and enjoy the complete immersion into the ways of life in Appalachia, all thanks to these wonderful young ladies that call themselves The Local Honeys.
Catch The Local Honeys On Tour:
July 15- Nashville, TN- The Basement (album release show)
July 17- Knoxville, TN- Barley’s Taproom
July 19- Asheville, NC- The Grey Eagle
July 20- Decatur, GA- Eddie’s Attic
July 21- Memphis, TN- Hernando’s Hideaway
July 22- St. Louis, MO- Off Broadway
July 23- Kansas City, MO- Knucklehead’s
July 26- Denver, CO- Lost Lake Lounge
July 28- Red Lodge, MT- One Legged Magpie
July 29- Emigrant, MT- The Old Saloon
July 30- White Sulphur Springs, MT- Red Ants Pants Festival