Is it me, or is Montpelier quietly becoming Vermont’s answer to Nashville? Per capita, and perhaps even in raw numbers, the state’s diminutive capital region surely must boast more twangy goodness than any other. From straight-up country and rockabilly, to alt-country and country rock, to bluegrass and old-time music, the rootsy fare found in the shadow of the Golden Dome is stunning, both in sheer volume and, more importantly, quality. Into the mix come Honeysuckle — transplants from Takoma Park, Md. — and they prove a worthy addition to the city’s embarrassment of Americana riches. The duo’s recently remastered live album, At the Appalachian Jubilee, originally recorded in 1993, should be required listening for any local with an affinity for down-home high harmony.
From the first notes of “The Sweetest Song,” lead vocalist Carol Hausner is obviously the star of the show. Her voice is comfortingly familiar, alternately reminiscent of June Carter and Emmylou Harris. While that statement might be seen as hyperbole — if not sacrilege — Hausner’s warm tone is pure and unvarnished. Her stylistic inflections are classically understated. Even on beloved country standards such as this Tim O’Brien number, Hausner’s ornamental inventions feel like they’ve always been part of the song.
Guitarist/vocalist Ed Schaeffer, though a bit overshadowed, is no slouch. He more than holds his own both vocally and instrumentally. His is a full, if occasionally nasal, tone, providing ballast for Hausner’s soaring vocal flights. He’s the perfect straight man, offering no more or less than each tune requires. Even when Schaeffer takes the lead, as he does on George Jones’ “Golden Ring” and Johnny Russell’s “Baptism of Jesse Taylor,” his performance is tastefully restrained.
Ace player Warren Reader drops in on two numbers, “Old Flames” and “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)” and serves up shimmering dobro licks. Honeysuckle close out the affair with a swooning rendition of the Carter Family classic “Gold Watch and Chain.”
If the album has any flaw, it’s the numerous stage-banter interludes between tracks. Though mildly interesting on the initial listen, they grow wearisome with repeated spins. That said, the final remarks by the show’s emcee — delivered in a charming drawl — offer a succinct take on the performance: “Honeysuckle, thank you so much … Isn’t their music refreshing?”
Indeed it is.