Thursday, April 21, 2011

Overtones of Appalachia in Champaign: The Honey Dewdrops at the Champaign Public Library

Watching Laura Wortman and Kagey Parrish step up to the single microphone in the Champaign Public Library's Robeson Pavilion Room, I was prepared to hear some old-time-style tunes; what I wasn't prepared for was the amazing warmth and depth of the sound. I mean, this was just two voices and two guitars, right? But that magical microphone in between them captured all of that sound and made the spacious room shrink down a little smaller; I think that it even struck up the fire in the (non-existent) fireplace. Being so used to full-on, full-sounding bands, I was really pleased that my ears could perk up this way to a duo.

Throughout their set, The Honey Dewdrops sounded close and rich. Laura's singing features that lovely Virginia slur, where the notes blend together, forcing you to follow the song along. Kagey adds in the right harmonies throughout. And the mixing of their stringed instruments below supports the mixing of their vocal instruments above.

"Nobody in This World" is a perfect example of what this band is. It was an original tune that could as easily have been a Carter Family standard. Kagey played mandolin, and we might as well have been on their back porch in Charlottesville.

They mostly played originals over the course of a one-hour set. My favorite was "Amaranth," the lead track on their most recent disc, These Old Roots. Inspired by a Love Lies Bleeding Amaranth in their garden, they wrote the song from the plant's point of view -- a non-fading flower left for a love that has never come.

They also showed their love of the tradition, stringing together a banjo and guitar version of "Going Across the Sea," a take on "Angeline the Baker" that featured just the right amount of rollick in the banjo, and then an a capella version of "Bright Morning Star." Their version of a contemporary song was a mandolin-and-guitar version of The Beatles' "Across the Universe."

And then they did end the set with a song by that Virginian First Family of Country Music, the Carter Family, "Sow 'Em on the Mountain."

They took no encore -- and more power to them for that -- and were a pleasure to chat with after the show.

I'm really glad that I got a chance to see these guys, and I hope that they'll hit your town soon, too.

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