Billy Jack

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Fine-tuning the blend of country and coffeehouse Americana that filled their 2008 debut, honeyhoney present themselves as a leaner, twangier band on this pitch-perfect follow-up. Trading licks on the banjo, acoustic guitar, and violin, bandmates Suzanne Santo and Benjamin Jaffe set themselves up as a more commercial Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, keeping the tempos slightly quicker and replacing Welch's backwoods drawl with Santo's husky, slow-smoked croon. She's clearly the focal point here, but Jaffe is the first mate who keeps the ship afloat, whether he's backing up his partner with vocal harmonies -- even taking the lead for a few moments on "Old School Friends" -- or claiming the songwriting credits for tunes like "Angel of Death," a vintage-sounding country ballad that recalls Hank Williams. If 2008's First Rodeo pointed the band in multiple directions -- acoustic folk one moment, ‘60s revivalist pop the next -- then Billy Jack narrows the focus and keeps its sights set on the south, resulting in a rootsy track list that's far more cohesive than honeyhoney's debut. The highlights are scattered throughout: "Ohio" builds up to a tent revival chorus; "Don't Know How" tugs on the heartstrings with an archetypal AM Radio melody, and "I Don't Mind" finds the two bandmates harmonizing like a co-ed Everly Brothers. Released by Lost Highway -- a label with far more country clout than Ironworks, the duo's previous home --- Billy Jack doesn't feel like a reboot as much as a clarification, as it brings to light the nostalgic, rootsy charm that First Rodeo only hinted at.

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