In the early 1990s, the powerhouse that once was the Sunset Strip caved in the face of Seattle grunge and the rise of all their alternative contemporaries that followed. This massive regime change shook up the L.A scene and made it so with the exception of Buckcherry and a couple possible others, no more hard-rocking sleazy bands would be able to exist while grunge-esque bands continued their hot streak well into the 2000s. Now that the Puddle Of Mudds, Stainds and Three Doors Downs have largely slipped from mainstream prominence, things could be turning back the other way and without the help of a label to do so. This is the story of new L.A band Dirty Honey, and it could very well be the story of many more.
Dirty Honey serve as a living testament to the power and opportunity that can now be afforded to an independent artist, as well as how the internet continues to shift the tides for the golden cradle of major labels. In this year alone, Dirty Honey has played with Red Sun Rising as the opener for their Peel tour, opened for The Who on their Moving On! tour and has been touring with Skillet and Alter Bridge for the last month on the Victorious Sky tour. Last month it was announced they would be an opening act for Guns N’ Roses, one of the last truly titanic bands to emerge from the fast-lane grime and grit of L.A’s 80s heyday. All this, with no deal, off the strength of a chart-topping Billboard single- and a debut EP to go along with it.
The 6-track EP, simply titled Dirty Honey recaptures old-school rock flavour while trying to reconcile it with mainstream sensibilities. Recent bands that have taken this path, such as Greta Van Fleet have overshot the mark and become their influences rather than becoming something out of them. Dirty Honey shows great promise to do the latter, with the opening track on the EP (and their aforementioned #1 single) “When I’m Gone” showing strong Led Zeppelin and AC/DC influences without un-creatively aping either. Singer Marc LaBelle strikes a distinct Robert Plant/Bon Scott hybrid with a familiar wail and rasp, guitarist John Notto in tow cranking out punchy riffage while bassist Justin Smolian and drummer Corey Coverstone hold down the song’s solid, infectious groove.
“Rolling 7s” follows in like fashion, opening with trademark Angus Young guitar stylings by Notto and soulful, building vocals on the part of LaBelle- exploding into a chorus and solo immediately reminiscent of numbers from Aerosmith’s Rocks, an LP that hugely influenced many of Dirty Honey’s L.A predecessors (the tracks “Get The Lead Out”, “Last Child” and “Lick And A Promise” come to mind the most).
Building off of the commercial potential established thus far and already manifested into reality by Track 1, “Heartbreaker” mellows out slightly and follows a poppier chord progression that makes it a likely and intelligent choice for a future single to be released from the EP. At the same time, it doesn’t get so lost in the sauce that it loses its integral rock essence; a key balance that Dirty Honey realizes and easily maintains.
Another likely candidate for radio play is the following track “Down The Road”, a down-home, take-em-to-church 3/4 number dripping and oozing with soul that is all too rare in the current deracinated, mechanical landscape of mainstream Billboard radio. LaBelle’s raspy bluesman belting turns what would have already been a great track instrumentally into an absolute gem, with Notto providing perfectly correspondent guitar work that reminds one of a young Slash on stage in London in ’92, Doubleneck SG in hand.
The track as a whole could have fit lock-and-key with some of the famous slow numbers on Use Your Illusion II had it been released on said record- think “Yesterdays”, “Estranged” or “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” then try to say this doesn’t come into similar orbit- albeit, probably not as long or grandiose, but the feeling is certainly there.
With the obligatory slow jams out the way, the rock resumes with “Scars”, centred around a fat, heavy guitar riff more melodically akin to the sort of hipster-boom-clap lo-fi rock that was at least partially pioneered by The Black Keys in the early 2010s. No wayfarers or waxed moustaches here though, gentleman, this one is pure rock and LaBelle, with his Plant-for-the-modern-age vocal approach makes damn sure of it.
The only complaint one could honestly make about Dirty Honey at this point in the record is that they frankly don’t go far enough. While Notto’s guitar work is totally suited for this type of rock, he needs to CRANK. IT. UP. The drive on his amp is far too restrained and needs to go up at least 3 or 8 notches to really sound deadly and threatening and give Dirty Honey the fist-through-the-wall sound it deserves. There is potential on that gain dial that has not been explored and really, truly should be.
One more before the curtain: “Break You” circles back to similar hard-rocking dynamics as the ones that started this mother off. While LaBelle and Notto drive the song in its rockingmost direction, Smolian and Coverstone really get a chance to shine through as a great rhythm section on this last track. Coverstone crashes, slams and hammers through this number in straightforward fashion, while Smolian’s rumbling, ominous bass is impossible to ignore and gets its own clearly audible moment after Notto’s solo. LaBelle belts in the outro: “Don’t let me down”, and that is certainly not something he and his merry men have done on this EP. In turn, they can look forward to having a loyal legion of hard-rocking fans that won’t either with them.
Dirty Honey, judging by this self-titled collective of 6 blazing tracks and their increasingly impressive tour record is poised to be a great force in rock and a surefire hope if it is ever to be massively revived in future years. They breathe new life into a sound that could only come from L.A, C.A, U.S.A, choosing not to succumb to the sort of globalized muck that much of popular music has become and already finding success doing it.
The boys show a lot of potential to break out of their influences and really become a unique entity in modern rock, though they tend to restrain their sound a bit too much, holding back would could be so the ears of the more delicate and indie-centric don’t rupture and disintegrate. Let it fly boys, let it rock! Other than that, the Dirty Honey EP is a hell of a sock in the gut for a simple 6-song introduction to the world. Label or no label, one can only imagine what is to come with them.