The California Honeydrops

Spreadin' Honey

The washtub bass that helped make the California Honeydrops‘ debut disc, Soul Tub!, so distinctive is largely absent from the Oakland band’s follow-up. And harmony vocalist Nansamba Ssensalo, who alternated between tub bass, washboard, and drums, is sadly absent from the new lineup. Formerly a quartet, the Honeydrops are now a quintet, and the addition of saxophonist-clarinetist Johnny Bones and upright bassist Seth Ford-Young gives them a bigger sound, which is further fattened on some tracks by such guests as trombonist Danny Armstrong and accordionist Bruce Gordon.

Singer, guitarist, and trumpet player Lech Wierzynski, the group’s Polish-born leader, remains the focal point. He wrote eleven of the thirteen tunes on Spreadin’ Honey, drawing on an amazing variety of genres — New Orleans R&B, old-school soul, Blind Boy Fuller-style blues, zydeco, swamp pop, gospel, and both traditional and modern jazz — all culled from the African-American tradition. His ringing tenor vocals are wonderfully pliant and deeply soulful. On trumpet, he borrows from Louis Armstrong for the high-note cadenza on the title track. His warm solo on “Cryin’ Blues,” the set’s only instrumental, brings to mind Marcus Belgrave, the trumpeter in Ray Charles‘ small band in the late-Fifties and Wierzynski’s teacher at Oberlin College years later. The ghost of Sister Rosetta Tharpe haunts Wierzynski’s electric guitar work on “Thank You,” the disc’s spirited closer. (TubTone Records)

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