This generous, sunlit record left me feeling like a plant that had been watered. Abby Zotz’s Local Honey is a lot of things, but among those is an ideal listening experience for those times when misfortune seems to be bearing down from every side and heartache is a daily reality. It will pick you up out of the mire. It isn’t filled with cuddly sentiments or soft-pedaled clichés and tropes, but the cumulative effect of this collection is to state, once more, that life has its difficulties, its ups and down, and it behooves us to bear them with whatever grace we can muster and turn our eyes towards moving on. The production for this album brings out every thread of color into sharp relief without every belaboring one aspect over another – balance is an obvious watchword and it pays off with a fully realized solo debut.
A strong sense of inspiration fills many of the songs and influences their energy. “Stability” is one such song and the album’s first. It kicks off Local Honey with some hard won, but enormously affectation sentiments gaining a lot from Zotz’s upper register emotion. She embodies the song’s emotional peaks with such detailed, measured simplicity that it cuts right through your defenses and draws blood. You have to know what instability is before you can write about recognizing some stabilizing force in your own life. The perhaps unexpected sound of an organ opens “Big Hope” and the song embraces a full band arrangement from the first. The spring in this song’s step gets a lot of its air time from the organ, a constant underlying presence in the song, and some electric guitar puts added teeth in the song.
Gospel is the guiding influence behind “Peace Sweet Peace”, but there’s no denying it has a jazzy tilt on it that may play unexpected for some. The spartan, well spaced arrangement gives Zotz ample room to work her magic. She captures our attention with a smokier vocal tone than previous songs, playing to the song’s bluesy roots, and the obvious dexterity of her voice is a marvel to me. The gently undulating pastoral sweep of “Good Bones” has an underrated commercial edge – this song wouldn’t be at all out of place on either retro or modern country radio. The vocals are exquisitely arranged.
“Be Here Now” is an ode of a sort to mindfulness and rates, in my mind, as one of the album’s best lyrics. Zotz has an unerring instinct for characterization coming through these words and the inevitable pay off with many of the verses has just the right amount of symmetry and unity. The song’s bridge and instrumental breaks neatly dovetail into the song as well. There’s a bubbling rhythm bringing “Sea Change” to life and Zotz’s voice has a spectral, almost ghostly aura. The same ghostliness runs though “All Through the Night” with an added dash of stately lyricism and vocal harmonies. “You’ll Never Know” ends Local Honey with another echo of jazz influences coming through the tune and the good natured gaze she casts vocally over the song’s bittersweet lyric makes it all the more appealing. Abby Zotz’s first appearance as a solo recording artist is the peak of her musical journey so far and stands to propel her art in a whole new direction.