The definition of Honky Tonk music has evolved over its life. Starting with music coming from a down and dirty, rowdy bar, to music played with a certain type of piano, to a southwestern rockabilly, to Nashville taking over and stretching it even more.
The term Honky Tonk hit me after a couple of listens to Joe Whiting and his band's most recent CD, "This Life" from Free Will Records. I was thinking more the Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman." Not that this CD is anything like the Rolling Stones, but instead one can't figure out how to categorize it, like that song "Honky Tonk Woman." It wasn't really rock or classic Stones, instead it took a place all its own as a classic.
Whiting's album "This Life" is loaded with new classics written by either himself or he and guitarist Terry Quill. He uses his voice in every configuration one can think of. He speaks, he sings a cappella, he phrases, he gets gravely, he goes raspy, it's sweet, it's pure, it has the blues, it's deep, it's high and ultimately it is just right.
The songs are all stories, heartfelt Americana kind of stories of crazy people, heartache, the rain, desperados, red heads, trains and just plain old being yourself. And some are very funny, too -- that's where an audience would make a difference. The songs are so clean I wanted to hear it "live" in a room full of people dancing, slow and fast - people like the ones he is singing about.
The arrangements, playing and engineering are dead on with the lyrics - complimenting the mood of each story. And Whiting's saxophone is exceptional, noticeable and relevant, too. He plays it all just right. There is no overplaying; instead the notes leave a lot of breathing room. Just like the rest of the players who are Terry Quill on guitar and vocal harmonies, Brian Barrigar on bass and Frank DeFonda on drums; Whiting sings lead and plays alto and tenor sax; Guitarist Loren Barrigar plays on one track, too.