It was a sort of homecoming for Honeyhoney frontwoman Suzanne Santo at the Grog Shop last night.
She grew up in the area before moving to Los Angeles for an acting career that including spots on Law and Order, Medium, and Judging Amy in her late teens.
She met guitarist Ben Jaffe, who was doing commercial music and formed an Americana duo with Santo playing banjo, guitar, and violin. They released their debut, First Radio, in 2008, and last year followed that up with Billy Jack.
Fresh from buzzed-about appearances at SXSW, they showed what the fuss was about last night. Playing before a crowd of about 70 people, they showcased their ability to easily blend different stylistic idioms.
Sure, banjo, and fiddle scream country, but they compete here with folk, blues, and even a trace of psychedelica and British Invasion rock.
There were even moments during the song breaks where Jaffe cut loose with greasy kinetic guitar freakouts, clearly taking advantage of the live setting.
But the star of the show was Santo and her vocal versatility. During the twangy tunes, her voice is often as cold, grainy, and spare as a coal miner’s daughter.
Other times it’s dusky and Dusty, bringing a smoky jazz-soul vibe to Honeyhoney's freewheeling folk-blues numbers or giving a metaphorical shoulder shimmy during one of their southern gospel-blues tunes.
Santo was also an engaging, humorous presence on the mic between songs, relating how the tour’s sponsored by Short Mountain Distillery, which makes authentic Tennessee moonshine, and a few details about a recent show at a marijuana dispensary. (No, they were not paid in kind.)
Among last night's many highlights: their lively ode to “Ohio,” a cover of Hank Williams' “Lost Highway,” and James Carr’s 1967 soul classic “The Dark End of the Street.”
After the show, Santo expressed her hope to return to the area. It would be a coup for Cleveland, because there seems no doubt their star is on the ascendance. —Chris Parker