Bedecked in studio sheen, L.A.’s HoneyHoney wades deep into the sound of the American West on its debut, First Rodeo. Whether employing it as kitsch (the frantic “Little Toy Gun”) or overwrought earnestness (the folksy guitar and fiddles on “Come On Home”), principal instrumentalist Ben Jaffe continually conjures desert ambiance to back vocalist Suzanne Santo’s lovelorn tales. The studio players behind them fill in the empty spaces quite competently, like a cut-rate Calexico.
Opener “Black Crows” strays the furthest from the First Rodeo formula, strutting jazzily down the corner with quavering Mellotron’d strings in tow. No surprise, then, that it’s the most striking thing on the album.
Santo croons with equal parts sass and brass about ex-boyfriends and the drinking binges they inspire. Unfortunately, she’s working in a vocal style that seems ubiquitous these days, blunting some of her impact. No knock against her; it’s just the times she’s singing in.
Jaffe and the other players, however, should know better. There’s a veritable wasteland of radio-baiting filler stretching over the heart of the record. An oasis or two pops up along the way, usually when the tracks reach their choruses. As the group’s personal fleet of spambots will gladly tell you, HoneyHoney knows the architecture of a good hook.
There’s not much else here that stands out, but as the album title implies, this is just HoneyHoney’s initial go-round. A bit of experience should only toughen up these sticky sweet desperados.