By Jackie Morris

Honey Man - Hey MavisOne of the most dynamic recordings I’ve heard this year, Honey Man is the second release by Hey Mavis…featuring the marriage of Laurie Michelle Caner’s beautiful alto voice and banjo with husband Eddie Caner’s brilliant, virtuoso violin, fiddle and viola. The result, which they rightly call “Appalachian Americana,” is an intriguing variety of driving rhythms and softer songs – all featuring an exquisite interplay of fiddle and banjo, vocals and harmonies.

I am not exaggerating when I say “exquisite.” Laurie Caner cut her musical teeth in the all-woman rootsy vocal trio, The Rhondas. Her vocal flexibility – and ability to craft authentic-sounding “backwoods” harmony – is immediately apparent. Eddie Caner has over 20 years of world-class performance under his bow, touring the globe, as soloist or sideman, with over 25 major artists, including Smokey Robinson, Page and Plant, and Luciano Pavarotti. But it is the musical interaction between the two of them – an almost visceral excitement – that makes Hey Mavis so special.

In Honey Man, this musical synergy is enhanced by the addition of Brent Kirby on guitar, harmonica, drums, harmonies and two lead vocals; and Bryan Thomas on upright bass and Chank-o-Matic 6000 (foot percussion). Together, this Akron-based quartet creates some truly memorable music.

All the songs in Honey Man are written by Laurie Caner, except for one by Brent Kirby; and the songwriting is consistently intelligent, honest and earthy, involving the stuff of real life -- love, heartbreak, children, relationships, letting go and moving on. The themes may be universal, but the lyrics are fresh and spontaneous; and the melodies, often intriguing.

HEY MAVISThis is especially true of the opening track – Say Hello to Paris, which has something of an exotic, “world” flavor to it. It opens simply and dramatically, with the rhythmic punch of the banjo, followed by Laurie’s mesmerizing voice. And then, the magic happens: Eddie’s violin enters the mix, playing in and out of the vocals, dancing around her voice with amazing finesse…celebrating it, answering it, and building on the emotion. And Laurie, in turn, enhances her vocals with perfectly nuanced harmonies. The textures, the rhythms, the chords (sometimes evoking a tiny hint of klezmer to my ear)….all combine to make this song a tour-de-force.

Other high points of this album are the title track, Honey Man, living up to its name with smooth, honeyed vocals and delicious harmony. The sensuous instrumentation and lyrics are underscored by Laurie’s percussive banjo and Eddie’s rich Viola Profunda, which seems to embrace her voice.

Track 3, Already Down, picks up the beat, proving for all time that a fiddle can really rock. Edgy and fast-paced, it features great vocals by Brent Kirby and tight harmony by Laurie.

Song for Suitors voices every mother’s wish to have her daughters cherished and respected as individuals. It introduces this heartfelt message with simple banjo picking…and then flies on the wings of an inspired violin.

Kirby’s song, Let the Water do the Work, is yet another standout in this outstanding group of songs. It provides a nice contrast to the other selections, providing a classic simplicity typically found in old traditional songs….a lovely melody, and a chorus that makes you want to sing along. Wrapped around a wise message of just “letting go” and “being,” the song gently rolls along to a great groove, while the violin flows over the melody like water.

There are 11 tracks in all on this album, each with its share of delights. Fast-paced, hoedown rhythms…haunting ballads…dark alt-rockers…and upbeat Americana…all are generously spooned out in Honey Man, a sweet treat for the ears.

A New York transplant to the tiny town of Carpinteria, CA, Jackie is a freelance writer by profession and a singer-songwriter by passion. Her newly-released third album of original Folk/Americana songs was among Top Folk Albums of 2011 on the Folk Music Radio Airplay Charts. Jackie is also an active member in such acoustic music communities as SummerSongs, SongMakers, and FARWest Folk Alliance.