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Musicians like Lee Hazlewood rode an interesting wave during the late 60s, when midlife addled moms and dads, eager not to be left behind by the caprices of a youth driven culture, started to raid their children’s record collections. This opened the opportunity for the creation of an adult oriented version of those troublesome youngsters’ music, a sort of easy listening psychedelia exemplified by Hazlewood collaborations with Nancy Sinatra like “Some Velvet Morning” and “Sand”. Also exemplary of this sound is the Hazlewood produced 1968 album by Honey Ltd., which, thanks to Light in the Attic records, is only now receiving its first wide release.
Originally known as The Mama Cats, the group that came to be known as Honey Ltd. got their start at Detroit’s Wayne State University, made up of sisters Joan and Alexander Sliwin and their friends Laura Polkinghome and Marsha Jo Temmer. With a gift for seamless four part harmony, the group’s sound was essentially a timely update of the classic girl group sound of the early 60s. Wanting to broaden their musical horizons, they moved to Los Angeles, where they were almost immediately signed by Lee Hazlewood to his LHI label. Hazlewood bathed the quartet’s songs in his typically lush and idiosyncratic arrangements, giving them a minor chart single that poised them for going out on the road. However, despite the drug references and anti-war sentiments in their lyrics, Honey Ltd. were – thanks in part to Hazlewood’s burnishing of their sound — much less likely to be found at the Fillmore East than they were opening for Eddie Fisher at Caesar’s Palace or doing a USO tour with Bob Hope.
While some may find their sound as cheesy as one of Sammy Davis Jr.’s Nehru jackets, it’s hard to deny Honey Ltd.’s musicianship. Their uniformly strong vocals and preternaturally simpatico sense of harmony emboldened them to take on baroque melodies and woozy modulations that would throw many other vocal groups into disarray. It should also be said that their original songs are quite good, Polkinghome in particular proving herself a writer with a sophisticated pop sensibility. (“The Warrior” and “Silk ‘N Honey” are especially strong.) It also didn’t hurt that Hazlewood teamed them up with the Wrecking Crew, a collection of the best session musicians in L.A.
Most of the tracks on Light in the Attic’s compilation come from the Honey Ltd.’s lone album, which was shelved upon completion by Hazlewood. While perhaps no revelation, the collection will no less prove a balm for those with an itch for adventurous pop arrangements and easy listening with an unusual edge. It should also sate those curious to see where some of the original girl groups’ forays into psychedelia (The Shangri-las’ “The Sweet Sounds of Summer” or Reparata and the Delrons’ “Saturday Night Didn’t Happen”, for instance) might have lead. For me, it appeals for all of those reasons, but perhaps above all for the undeniable fact that these four young women could really sing the hell out of a song.