Honey from the Tombs
Arts & Crafts
my Millan’s sporting a blazer, her name’s written in Gothic font, and the whole thing is sealed via wax. You’d be forgiven for not knowing what to expect when popping Honey from the Tombs into the CD player. 80s dance pop? Medieval hymns? The soundtrack to The Scarlet Pimpernel? Nah, it’s just every indie girl’s genre of choice in 2006: country music.
The album starts promisingly enough. “Losin’ You” compares the subject’s eyes to “burned out headlights” and Millan’s voice is helpfully multi-tracked throughout, creating a beefier and more pleasing chorus. It’s a neat trick that will get repeated often on Honey from the Tombs and, over time, it will begin to rankle. Not because it’s ever used garishly—but instead because it begins to sound less like an aesthetic choice, and more like a crutch.
Luckily, the music (mostly) is there to pick up the slack. The guitar playing here is exemplary, moving easily from the lightly strummed (“Baby I”) to the quickly strummed (“Blue in Yr Eye”) to the all-out rockers (“Skinny Boy,” “Headsfull”). While the tone of the musical accompaniment rarely wavers from country and its myriad incarnations, there are exceptions. “Come Home Loaded Roadie” is a keyboard-driven elegy and “Wayward and Parliament” allows the producer to earn his keep with an overpowering drum track and a strong trumpet solo.
Lyrically, there’s few absolute trainwrecks—but there’s also nothing that bears mentioning. The lyrics seem to work better when Millan has somewhere to be—like on the up-tempo “Headsfull”—rather than when she slows down and wallows (most everything else). Blame it on the fact that some of these songs are more than half a decade old. Blame her for not taking more time out of her busy schedule with Stars and Broken Social Scene to clean up the slow spots.
So, what is it about country? Can we call it the Neko Case syndrome? If so, it’d be a disservice to Case—Jenny Lewis and Amy Millan have nothing on her voice. Sure, the music is there, but the crucial element that might vault their 2006 records into albums worthy of repeat listens is missing. In country music, it’s all about the chops—and Millan doesn’t have ‘em. Yet.