Like Amy Winehouse fronting a jazz-influenced country band, Honeyhoney's debut is a diverse offering of twang, swagger, swing, and stomp. Vocalist Suzanne Santo sings with a retro soul croon that owes as much to the saloon as the nightclub, cracking one minute and lapsing into an elegant vibrato the next. It's a voice that adapts itself well to other styles, from the boozy elegance of ballads like "Bouncing Ball" and "Sugarcane" to the throaty, Nashville-influenced strains of "Not for Long." Santo also handles violin and banjo duties, two instruments that help emphasize her band's homespun blues, while her partner Ben Jaffe tackles most everything else, playing piano and electric guitar while claiming the bulk of the songwriting credits. Several of First Rodeo's highlights previously appeared on the Loose Boots EP, which previewed the band's genre-bending experiments in early 2008. Of those songs, "Give Yourself to Me" and "Little Toy Gun" stand out as the duo's most energetic material; the latter song even finds room for firearm sound effects, mixing sensuality with the sort of sassy, '60s-styled camp that often peppers Quentin Tarantino movies. New offerings only sharpen the band's approach: "Come on Home" is a dirty duet before Santo's alto and Jaffe's Mississippi Delta riffage, "David" orchestrates a breakup note with tasteful strings and piano, and "Slow Brains" begins with old-timey banjo pluckings before making room for lush harmonies and keyboards. First Rodeo covers a good deal of ground, yet its appeal never suffers at the expense of its diversity, which makes for a truly promising debut.
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey