The California Honeydrops – Like You Mean It album review

The California Honeydrops formed in 2007 playing in the BART subway stations around Oakland. The group has an easy-going jazz and R&B style that mixes with the occasional gospel vocal styling to create an easygoing vibe that you can’t help but tap your foot to.

Made up of accomplished Jazz musicians, it shows in the arrangements and instrumental stylings. The songs combine a New Orleans style of swing jazz with the smooth singing of R&B, occasionally straying into light blues territory. The result is a batch of songs that are sugary sweet and very easy on the ears.

Songs like the demure “All Day, All Night” play up to the band’s strengths: strong instrumental accompaniments alongside some silky smooth vocals, all wrapped up in an upbeat tempo and beautiful background singing.

Lead singer Lech Wierzynski has a smooth, strong voice that shines on every song, and when he merges with the gospel chorus behind him, like in the lamenting “Just Another Day”, the results are powerful. However, the band wisely uses their background singers sparingly, letting Wierzynski’s powerful voice take center stage for the majority of the album. The singer switches from a blues-styled croon to blissful R&B with incredible ease, and his casual approach sets the tone for the entire album.

The songs on Like You Mean It shift between blues, R&B and gospel almost effortlessly. The band’s amazingly varied list of instruments means they have the personnel to handle switching between a New Orleans-type jazz song like “Just Because” (complete with some nifty sax work) to blues numbers like “Other Shore”, giving the album a sampler-platter feeling in the best possible way. For all the variety, every song feels deliberate and thought out. There is no head-spinning changes of direction, instead each new style is casually introduced for the band to take up and run with.

Thanks to the consistently excellent vocals and strong instrumental chops, the songs that make up Like You Mean It just feel fun. They sound classic without feeling boring, genuine without coming up cheesy. This album sounds like one the group had a blast cutting, and their enjoyment is infectious.

Like You Mean It is one of those albums that doesn’t immediately demand attention, but its free flow and easygoing nature makes it a treat to come back to again and again. A perfect collection of songs to throw on while you grill out in the summer, or when you are entertaining friends with impossibly different musical tastes. Like You Mean It is a crowd-pleaser in all the right ways.

The California Honeydrops - Like You Mean It album review


The House of Love – She Paints Words in Red album review

One of the leading British indie rock bands of the 1980s and early 1990s, the House of Love have had such a tremulous history that recounting it would take several pages (just take a peek at their Wikipedia page). However, on She Paints Words in Red, the band’s second album since they returned from a ten-year hiatus in 2003, the band appears to have mellowed with age. That isn’t a bad thing.

The group’s newest effort is a melodic and soothing slice of indie rock. The songs on this album, their first for Cherry Red Records, are reflective and almost wistful. Not that there is a feeling of melancholia or sorrow on the record, it feels like this band has embraced who they are.

The songs sound gently reminiscent, like recounting a fond memory. When singer Guy Chadwick sings that “the only trouble here is in your mind” on “Trouble in Mind”, it feels like he has accepted the mantra. There is a resigned, contented air to his vocals throughout the album. It gives his voice a maturity that makes the album feel richer.

The guitars quietly accompany Chadwick’s ethereal crooning beautifully, with gentle melodies and just enough verve here and there to remind you they are still there. The entire ensemble feels very tightly put together, with nary a wasted drum fill or extra guitar part. Even though it is appreciably well put together, the album delivers a very carefree, unassuming vibe throughout.

The only downside to this lackadaisical feeling is that there isn’t really any song or group of songs that stands out from the pack. This is a bunch of slightly forlorn soft rock, nothing more and nothing less. It’s an album that skates along pretty easily, never making stop to take notice.

When Chadwick laments he feels “just like Hemingway”, it’s over a jangly guitar and uptempo drums, delivered with airy nonchalance. The complaint comes across as just a little forced, and likewise you’ll be hard pressed to find any kind of emotional connection with this batch of songs. They will probably flit out of your head just as fast as they enter.

Not that every song needs to be an ear-worm, or that you should cry (or laugh) on any record. But She Paints Words in Red is devoid of any kind of feelings. It can be warm, sometimes, but that’s about all you’ll get.

Overall, it’s clear from She Paints Words in Red that the House of Love are a band that know their way around a well-written song. This is a pretty album that doesn’t try to be much else. Leave any expectations behind, and you’ll like it just fine.