The whole world is a little sweeter now that Oakland’s The California Honeydrops have released their seventh studio album “Call It Home: Vol. 1 and 2.”
The Honeydrops have recently established themselves as one of the most entertaining roots bands playing on the live music scene today. They’ve been a West Coast mainstay for years, breaking out into the national conscious with acclaim for their 2015 album “A River’s Invitation,” multiple tours opening for fan and living legend Bonnie Raitt and hitting the ensuring festival seasons hard, bringing their spirituous live show to people across the land.
The band’s music is made for singing and dancing, that O.G. groove music steeped in Bay Area R&B, funk, Southern soul, Delta blues, and New Orleans second-line. It’s almost impossible to walk away from a California Honeydrops concert without pep in you step, a song in your heart and hope for the world. “Call It Home: Vol. 1 and 2” is no different.
There certainly is a lot of music to unpack and enjoy with “Call It Home: Vol. 1 and 2,” a treat for any fan who’s been waiting the two and half-years for the follow-up to “A River’s Invitation.” Billed as a double-album, the record clocks in at just over an hour’s worth of music spread over 16 tracks of back-porch blues ballads, juke-joint grooves and second-line anthems.
The album continues on the musical path the band has been walking for 10 years now with no real discernible change of style or vibe from what they started doing when busking in BART stations across the Bay Area. Instead, “Call It Home: Vol. 1 and 2” marks the richest, most comprehensive offering of what The California Honeydrops bring to the world.
The album kicks off with the down-home vibe of title track “Call It Home.” Lech Wierzynski’s vocals have the shady tones of napping under willow trees, with the sunny chorus breaking through the verses like sunlight through the branches. “Living for today, singing for tomorrow” sings Wierzynski, while the rest of the band— Ben Malament on drums, Johnny Bones on tenor sax and clarinet, Lorenzo Loera on keyboards and Beau Bradbury on bass— blossoms around the infectious hook, with their own good-time charm.
Home is certainly a physical space, but what The California Honeydrops establish on the first track and hint at through the rest of the album is that this music is also home. For most of us, as well as presumably the members of the Honeydrops, playing the music of Sam Cooke or Ray Charles or The Meters or Isaac Hayes brings you to a safe and wonderful place, a place that feels like it is a part of you, a place that you can go to no matter where you are in the world. The Honeydrops have taken that love, respect and knowledge of old Southern roots music along with its Bay Area personality and have used it to inform and shape the musical home they’ve built on the album, inviting the rest of us to come join in the house party.
The most accomplished aspect of the album as a whole is the vibe the band sets throughout. There’s a wistful timelessness to it brought on by the source material of the 1960s and 1970s embedded into the heart of the music, though it feels entirely present and in-the-moment, as spontaneous and romantic as life in its most vibrant moments. “Coming Around” lets that essence flow through its moonlit rhythm, which illuminates an extended outro of sparking horns and twinkling percussion that dances alluringly together. Wierzynski’s vocals drift over the breezy, reggae-kissed groove of “Your Sweet Love” in reminiscent bliss and “Silicon World’ paints 21st century problems in the timeless hues of the blues.
The length of the record really lets all of the tasty goodness of the Honeydrops drizzle onto your soul. “Hold It Down” is deep-fried New Orleans funk, “Live Learn” is skip-to-the-beat R&B, “Those Days” is cinematic Motown stardust dust and “Good Good Lovin’ is a swampy shuffle of blues.
“Oh what a song I heard,” croons Wierzynski on “My Baby’s Arms,” a gorgeous gem tucked at the end of the record. Angelic backup singers sway with Wierzynski as sweeping strings glisten in the air, everything drifting together on the heavenly melody. It’s a truly beautiful song, with a clarity and vibrant joyfulness to it that feels essential to life, as if it is encapsulating one of those fleeting moments that shine before your eyes just before you slip into the eternal darkness. If and when we meet those moments, one would hope they’d be able to escape one last time to the places where they felt the safest, the most loved, the most themselves. Let’s call those places home.
– Garrett Bethmann