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The California Honeydrops - Soul Tub!

TubTone Records

12 tracks - Total time: 45:00

The California Honeydrops, who hail from Oakland, California, have in Soul Tub! a good-feeling romp through 12 original songs that are styled in traditional African American blues, jazz, R&B, soul and gospel from the 1920s through the 1960s. Further, the California Honeydrops produce a uniquely-theirs sound that joins the contemporary flair of drums and vocal choruses with their particular choice of combining these with the old-time instruments of washtub bass, jug and washboard. As the biracial Honeydrops write in the CD notes, their music as well as this choice of instruments “is rooted in the African American Musical Tradition. Most of the musicians, singers, and everyday people who created this tradition have never been credited or compensated for their contributions. As musicians and music-lovers we are all indebted to their work, and ‘Soul Tub!’ is our way of paying tribute to this legacy.” [Bold lettering in original.]

The California Honeydrops are: Lech Wierzynski, lead vocals, guitar and trumpet; Nansamba Ssensalo, who alternates with Benjamin Malamet on drums and washtub bass, does choral vocals, and plays jug and washboard, while Malamet also sings choral vocals and adds additional percussion; and Chris Burns, who fills out the sound with solid playing of traditional blues, boogie and R&B piano from the 1930s through the mid-1950s up to gospel-inflected 1960s soul. Wierzynski’s guitar is the same way, as he adds appropriate licks from 1930s blues through mid-1950s blues and R&B, and also gives a taste of New Orleans and swing jazz with his trumpet playing.

The 12 all-original tracks capture the band’s loving embrace of African American music with songs written in various styles that range chronologically from the classic jazz and jug band sounds of the 1920s in track 6, “Honeydrops Theme,” to the 1960s soul of track 4, “All You Got To Do.” Eight of the original songs were written by Wierzynski himself, while the three songs that talk about the Honeydrops themselves and their choice of bass were written by Wierzynski in collaboration with Benjamin Malamet and Chris Burns, and track 9, “Help Me Now,” was written together by all the band numbers. The washtub bass, dubbed specifically the Soul Tub, is enthusiastically celebrated on two tracks that feature guest vocalist Danielle Taylor, track 3, “Soul Tub,” and track 12, “Soul Tub (Reprise).” “Honeydrops Theme” tells of the band’s origins as street corner performers, and brings their story up to now. (These are the three tracks by Wierzynski, Malamet and Burns.)

Three of the songs take us back to that cusp in time when blues and R&B gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll: track 1, a New Orleans R&B number, “Miss Louise,” which is reminiscent of the classic Crescent City sound of Fats Domino; and tracks 9 and 10, which take us to mid-1950s R&B and blues respectively with the impassioned, James Brown-like crying of “Help Me Now,” and the more traditional blues of “All Night Long,” both reminding this reviewer of the Midnighters with Hank Ballard and the other 1950s black R&B groups. Traditional slow blues is carried on in track 2’s “Rain” and track 7’s “In My Dreams,” while track 5, “”Bye Bye Baby, I’m Gone,” is a rockin’ traditional piano boogie. “Squeezy Breezy” is swing-derived jazz-blues, and track 11, “Cry For Me,” is musically and thematically straightforward African American gospel, except done much differently—the Honeydrops sing unaccompanied except for drums and percussion, while joining in instrumentally are the R&B-riffing tenor saxes of guest musicians Johnny Bones and Yanos Lustig in counterpoint to Lech Wierzynski’s jazz trumpet.

Chris Burns and Lech Wierzynski, as the melody-carriers of the group with their ever-present piano and vocals respectively, are much more than just copiers of the African American sounds they convey. Obviously showing great affection and devotion to the original music, they are both masterfully versatile re-creators of these sounds, soul feeling and all. Burns can play the traditional piano of the masters, as well as create the admixture of gospel and R&B that characterizes his solo on “All You Got To Do,” while Wierzynski can give us the impassioned, crying soul vocals of “All You Got To Do” and “Help Me Now” with utter conviction, yet just as masterfully sing in a more traditional, less histrionic, blues vein on “Rain,” “In My Dreams” and “All Night Long,” and boogie with a lilt on “Bye Bye Baby, I’m Gone.”

All this gives Soul Tub! with its unusual bass approach both a contemporary as well as a jug band feel. No wonder Maria Muldaur, herself a noted re-creator of classic African American sounds with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band in the 1960s, praised this CD. Soul Tub! is a tubful of soul all the way.

Reviewer George "Blues Fin Tuna" Fish lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr, and writes a regular music column, “Blues and More” for the online Bloomington (IN) Alternative. He’s also published in the regional Indiana blues and alternative presses as well as Living Blues and Blues Access, and wrote the notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has also published on blues and pop music for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy, as well as the online Political Affairs and MRZine.

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