Quintessential Honey

Johnson Brothers

Independent release, 2001


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


So few bands these days take any chances musically, especially when they hit the major labels. It's almost as if while some groups are independent, they feel free to experiment with songs that reflect so many different stylistic influences, but the moment they get locked into the big record deal, their creativity is locked up tight.

With that in mind, I have this simple message for Johnson Brothers - and I can't emphasize this enough, even if I were to set this in the largest type possible in HTML: Don't EVER lose your creative spirit . Even if it means passing up the chance to be on a major label, rally against the suits and their "musical herd" mentality. If their second album Quintessential Honey is a sign of what this band is capable of, then I'm more excited than a 10-year-old kid downloading nude pictures of Anna Nicole Smith.

Lead vocalist Aaron Pickering (who also handles some percussion and keyboards) and crew have a real innocence about them. Their musical vision hasn't been deflowered by slick-talking shysters who claim they know what's best for the band, when they themselves couldn't find a clue with a road map. They haven't been compromised by A&R people at labels who care less about musical purity than about how they can get an album certified as a Diamond-seller. This is my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 music , pure and simple. This is reminiscent of what got people like me interested in making some kind of career based around music. This, kids, is what is quite possibly the rarest element in the whole music industry: honesty.

Boy, the reader is thinking, he's laying it on thick today. Well, wouldn't you if you heard a group who could mix the funkiness of Earth, Wind & Fire with the alternative sense of King's X and even a little bit of Steely Dan thrown in at times? Oh - and let's not forget that Johnson Brothers is able to accomplish all this while creating a unique sound for themselves. The opening trio of songs - "Out Of Tune," "Music & Mind" and "Quintessential Honey" - show that this sextet has absolute mastery of their musical style, and will make believers out of anyone who comes along.

But to call these guys a funk group or retro-'70s would be incorrect. "Visions Of You" is a tender, stripped-down track which makes good use of Curtis Roberts's bass. (For that matter, all of the instrumentation comes through the mix crisply without losing any of the nuances - well done!) Other tracks, like "L.A. Song" and "My Combustible Skin," find Johnson Brothers plowing their own path in album rock without relying too heavily on any one influence.

Oh, this isn't to say that Quintessential Honey is without any flaws. "Seven" is a track that confuses me - one minute's worth of a chorus? A song idea that never got fleshed out? The band fooling around on a riff? All it tends to do is break the momentum a little bit - and while the following track "Something Simple" has some beautiful moments, the band isn't able to get that momentum back. (I'd have utilized some harmony vocals on this one's chorus; guitarist/keyboardist Doug Beale proves earlier this group can do some great harmonies.)

Still, even when Johnson Brothers stumble, I'd rather hear them take that chance and miss the bullseye than become a cookie-cutter group. "Highest" is kind of like that, a song that works at getting back on track and partially succeeds, but doesn't quite live up to the excellence that makes up the bulk of Quintessential Honey. "Right Here Now" does succeed in taking a chance, following a different rhythm pattern and putting their fate in the hands of bassist Roberts and drummer Matt Fielding. It's almost Toad The Wet Sprocket-like at times, and turns out to be a pretty powerful track. The album's closer "Aloha" seals the deal for me, making me want to dive for the stereo and hit the "play" button on the CD player again.

Quintessential Honey is the kind of disc that reaffirms my faith in the music industry, and suggests that Johnson Brothers, as long as they're given the freedom to develop their music as they see fit, are going to be huge. These guys are worth watching for... and I'll be keeping my eyes and ears focused on them.

Rating: A-

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© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Independent release, and is used for informational purposes only.