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7 Jun 2017

Honey Ltd “The Complete LHI Recordings” 2013 (recorded in 1968-1969) US Psych Pop





Honey Ltd “The Complete LHI Recordings” 2013 (recorded in 1968-1969) US Psych Pop
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Light in the Attic’s new compilation of tracks by Honey Ltd. opens with the female vocal quartet singing a curiously harmonized and lushly orchestrated song called “The Warrior.” It’s from 1968, so you know they’re talking about Vietnam, even if they never name that country. A lover readies himself for war, then dies in a battlefield, then is lowered into his grave a hero; the chorus goes, “And it’s good, it’s good… everybody knows it’s good.” Honey Ltd. play it so close to the chest that’s it’s hard to know just how to read the song nearly a half-century later. Is it a pro-war bromide, a corrective to the kneejerk pacifism of the late 1960s? Is the song counter-counterculture? That could be an intriguing perspective-- and certainly not an unusual one for the time.

The liner notes for The Complete LHI Recordings insist “The Warrior” is a “dark, angry, and wonderfully eloquent anti-war anthem.” In other words, the song, written by the group’s own Laura Polkinghome, is meant to be a wake-up call to a war-ready America, with air quotes around every “it’s good.” Intention, however, does not determine outcome, and Honey Ltd. don’t really have the interpretive skills to make “The Warrior” sound angry or accusatory or bitterly ironic. They make it sound too sincere and too sensual, which turn out to be their default settings. The four women fare better on less topical songs about romance gone sour, which are less ambitious yet more straightforward. The Complete LHI Recordings collects every song Honey Ltd. recorded for Lee Hazlewood’s imprint, which means it collects every songs they ever made. Even then it only adds up to 13 tracks, two of which are instrumentals. In other words, theirs is a story of a group only just getting started but never going anywhere.

Honey Ltd. formed in the mid 1960s in Detroit: four Wayne State co-eds who harmonized in the cafeteria and eventually dubbed themselves the Mama Cats. After gigging with Glenn Frey (later of the Eagles) and Bob Seger, they departed Motown for sunnier Los Angeles. You can hear that westward progression in their music, which mixes the polite sounds of Motown vocal groups with the much less formal folk-pop of the West Coast. This is what the Crystals might have sounded like if they’d grown up in Laurel Canyon instead of Brooklyn. Or what the Mamas & the Papas might have sounded like if there’d been no Papas.

After signing the group, Hazlewood changed their name to Honey Ltd. and shooed them into the studio, where he produced these 13 tracks over the course of a few months. As a result, there is a uniformity of sound here that belies the comp’s catchall nature, but Honey Ltd. are no Nancy Sinatra-- at least not at this early stage of their career. They can’t quite muster the romantic one-upmanship of “I’ve Got Your Man” and “No, You Are”, but they fare surprisingly well on the more psychedelic “For Your Mind” and “Silk 'n Honey”, with its acrobatic high notes. And then there’s the cover of “Louie Louie”, which Jack Nitzsche arranged at a slower tempo with an awkward, protracted coda. It’s faintly ridiculous, especially when Honey Ltd. get around to singing “me gotta go,” but those flashy horn blasts-- which sound 10 stories tall-- match the quartet's vocals much more astutely and naturally than all the acoustic and electric guitar that Hazlewood added to their production. It’s bold enough to make you wish they’d reteamed with Nitzsche again.

It turns out, however, that the group truly was anti-war. In 1968 they did a USO tour with Bob Hope, and their experience cemented their opposition to U.S. military presence in Vietnam. LHI did not share their outrage and persuaded the four singers to back off their stance. Once they bent to pressure, they broke. Alexandra Sliwin married JD Souther and left the group, and the remaining trio eventually disbanded. All that remains is a handful of songs and little in the way of a legacy. With so little of their promise realized, The Complete LHI Recordings works less as a piece of revelatory music than as a historical artifact: a curio from a different era of politics and pop culture. The truncated quality of their career gives this compilation a tragic sheen, though: Honey Ltd. obviously had ambitions to match their talents, but we can only wonder what they might have accomplished even with another 13 songs............

Lee Hazlewood’s LHI label only put out interesting albums. Yet despite the psychedelic cowboy’s success with Nancy Sinatra and more, being on Lee Hazlewood Industries was no fast-track to success. Gorgeous and talented Detroit, Michigan girl group Honey Ltd had all the makings of a hit band, yet they disappeared after releasing just one album in 1968, a vinyl rarity that now regularly fetches upwards of $2,000.

Light In The Attic Records is now looking to set the record straight. Having previously explored both the back catalog of Lee Hazlewood and his LHI label via the You Turned My Head Around 45s Box Set, Honey Ltd’s The Complete LHI Recordings presents everything the group ever recorded. Fans of The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las and Pentangle are in for a treat – Honey Ltd’s music blended social commentary with harmony-drenched, psych-soul pop. Even opening track, ‘Warrior’, describes the mood of the times, as America sunk into the Vietnam war: “We must kill more people; strong men are what we need!"

Laura Polkinghorne, Marsha Jo Temmer and sisters Joan and Alexandra Sliwin are the girls with the angelic voices. Hailing from Detroit, the four members of Honey Ltd grew up in a culture of soul music and dance shows, yet forming a band was never part of the plan. It simply happened after they sung together in a Wayne State University cafeteria and found they’d silenced the room. By 1967 they had formed a group known as the Mama Cats and were playing shows with local singer Bob Seger. By 1968, against a backdrop of rioting in Detroit, they’d hauled over to Los Angeles to give music a go, and it’s there that they hitch-hiked to an audition with Lee Hazlewood on Sunset Boulevard. At the time, Lee Hazlewood Industries was in its prime: the money flowed and the roster swelled. “I think Lee just sat there for a while and listened, looking at us,” Temmer recalls. “He said, ‘Yeah, I think we can do something.’ You know – immediately!” Before long, LHI had the band in the studio with crack session music unit The Wrecking Crew.

These were not enlightened times for girl groups. The group were re-named Honey Ltd by Hazlewood, and were put to work on an album without even realizing it. The band were under the impression they were simply recording singles. As a result, the band were unphased by Honey Ltd’s commercial failure.

The parent label, however, did notice the album’s failure but the girls continued on. By the end of 1968, the band joined Bob Hope on the USO tour and headed to Thailand to perform for soldiers. In 1969, Alex married and quit the band, their tenure on LHI was effectively terminated and the remaining members regrouped as country-rock group Eve. But like their music, the girls’ outlook remained resolutely sunny.

“Its all a karmic equation, isn’t it?" Temmer recalled. “So many things to experience and learn and humbly let go of in this journey. Our friendship is based on love – we love each other… always have… always will.”...Light in the Attic Records..................

The Complete LHI Recordings brings together all of Detroit girl group Honey Ltd.'s recordings for singer/songwriter Lee Hazlewood during the late '60s. Formed in Detroit in 1967 while all the members were attending Wayne State University, Honey Ltd. caught the ear of Hazlewood, who brought them to Los Angeles and produced their debut album, which also featured backing from the legendary studio group the Wrecking Crew. These are melodic, lushly produced soul and sunshine pop-influenced cuts that showcase the group's romantic vocal harmonies. Included are such songs as "Silk 'n Honey," "The Warrior," "Come Down, " and "Eli's Coming."............by Matt Collar....................

When psychedelic all-girl quartet Honey Ltd. recorded these songs back in the Sixties, they weren’t even aware that these tracks were intended to make up an LP, instead believing them to be a selection of singles. As such, The Complete Lhi Recordings has a bunch of tracks which are a touch underdeveloped, as well as suffering from an uneven sense of pacing to the record overall. But in spite of all this, there’s a singularity to these songs which distinguishes them from their most obvious peers, and goes some way to explaining why hyper-rare original pressings of this LP now sell in excess of £1000.

Whether by design or by accident, a couple of moments in the opening passages of this collection set a tone which makes the remainder of the record incredibly commanding. Opening track ‘Warrior’ boasts a flower-power chorus of “it’s good! Everybody knows it’s good! Let me hear you say ‘it’s good’!” in full voiced, four part harmony. In both sound and mood, it’s an obvious cousin to something like ‘It’s Getting Better’ by the Mamas and Papas. That is, until the nonchalant delivery of the second-verse line “we must kill more people, strong men are what we need” jarringly subverts the tone with blackly-ironic commentary on the Vietnam War, betraying an uncompromising sharpness at the core of these songs. It’s a tiny detonation, with a far-reaching effect.

The difference between these moments and something like ‘He Hit Me’ by The Crystals is the relish Honey Ltd. take in innocently drawing in the listener before pushing in the pin. Songs like ‘I’ve Got Your Man’ accelerate through their most strummed-up, loved-up hooks before suddenly peeling back to softly declare, “I’ve got your man. There’s nothing you can do” with a disarming lack of remorse. After being blindsided by a couple of these payoffs, you’re sucked in – immersed in every line, and waiting for blows which don’t always come.

To be drawn so closely into these songs is wonderfully rewarding, with the four part arrangements of the girls about as dreamy, luxurious and assured as anything the era ever showcased. Songs like ‘No, You Are’ and ‘I’m So Glad’ demonstrate how each of their voices can meld as equal parts in an ethereal swirl of harmony, while cuts like ‘Come Down’ and ‘Silk N Honey’ show how the band can just as effectively separate into trio and lead; playing the Supremes to a Diana.

The problems kick in when you reflect on the tellingly mealy-mouthed title of The Complete Lhi Recordings – a name which makes the full admission that these songs never really hinged together as an honest-to-goodness LP. As a result, a lot of these songs play out as impressive but unfinished sketches designed primarily to showcase how brilliantly Honey Ltd. meld as a unit, while often failing to reach the material’s full potential.

The original commercial failure of these tracks are all the more frustrating when you suspect that Honey Ltd. could have delivered a genuinely brilliant record, given time – a record which played to their three primary strengths of solid hooks, perfect harmonies, and sharp lyricism in a more joined up and consistent way. But nonetheless, taken as a relic which builds the unlikely bridge between Pentangle and the riot-grrl movement via Sixties-pop, there’s a real richness to this thankfully excavated LP, even if it’s as simple as the interaction between the four voices themselves............. by Russell Warfield ......

Tracklist
Honey Ltd. - LHI 12002, 1968
A1 The Warrior 2:58
A2 No, You Are 2:42
A3 I've Got Your Man 2:31
A4 Silk 'N Honey 3:31
A5 For Your Mind 2:36
A6 Come Down 2:11
B1 Louie Louie 3:08
B2 Tomorrow Your Heart 2:28
Eli's Coming b/w Silk 'N Honey - LHI-3, 1969
B3 Eli's Coming 3:48
Silver Threads And Golden Needles b/w No, You Are - LHI-12, 1969
B4 Silver Threads And Golden Needles 2:58
Previously Unreleased
B5 I'm So Glad 3:30
B6 Love, The Devil 2:31
B7 Not For Me 2:29 

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