The Local Honeys + Rachel Harrington, Sage 2, Gateshead, 20th July 2019

The Local Honeys are from Kentucky, and they make sure their audience know it, repeatedly. They are not just proud, they are bursting with it, and a gig with them is both a history and geography lesson as much as a musical event. The music itself is sublime, old-time Appalachian from a very thoughtful, traditional base. Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs are the duo that form The Local Honeys, tonight joined by Megan Gregory playing as a trio of banjo, acoustic and fiddle. Stokley and Hobbs were the first two women to graduate with bachelor’s degrees in traditional music from Morehead State University, Kentucky which perhaps explains the tuition nature of their act, but certainly establishes their exemplary musicianship.

A lot of the tunes are arrangements of locally sourced tunes or adaptations of the British traditionals that formed the source for the bluegrass basics. Stokley’s gorgeous banjo picking is complemented by sweet harmonies that quickly beguile. The duo also write original songs, one of which, ‘Cigarette Trees’, is a strongly felt paean to environmental issues in their backyard. Prior to introducing this award winning song, The Local Honeys had told tales of how King Coal had dominated their state, including how the coal barons paid wages in private currency, which could only be spent in coal owned shops. To illustrate this, Hobbs took off her necklace -one of the original coal coins- and passed it around the audience to examine (and got it back at the end!). ‘Cigarette Trees’ was written in response to a slurry spill so severe, that to this day the local population can never drink their water, the title coming from considering strip-mining “We’d be just as ridiculous to plant cigarette trees and let them burn down the forests rather than clear-cut the land.” Ecology, delivered with warmth and beauty is a winning mix.

Opening was Rachel Harrington, who used to be known as “the hardest working woman in Americana”, but has actually been off the scene for seven years. Homesteading, as they say in the USA, she bought a ranch and filled it with horses. She also fell in love, so it was no surprise that her new album is full of positive songs about, yes, horses and domesticity. Her tales of Oregon ranch life are joyful, and she could not have been warmer, her solo acoustic delightful.

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