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Honey Barbara
1-10 & W. Ave.
Émigré Music

Rating: NR/10 ?

October 1, 2004
I almost missed this album. Opening my box of music-for-review as soon as I woke up one Sunday afternoon, I sluggishly picked through the contents, never noticing the unconventionally packaged 1-10 & W. Ave. hiding on the side of the parcel, its cardboard camouflaged by that of the box.

I finally noticed it a few days later when I was about to throw out what I thought was an empty box. I think of it now as an appropriate stroke of good fortune, just one of the many things that shroud 1-10 & W. Ave. in genuine mystery for me; the fact it was under my nose for a while before I noticed it adds to its intrigue.

The first thing you might take is "intriguing" about this release is the packaging. I hinted at it in my opening paragraph, but here I'll elaborate. It comes in a cardboard sheath, and when you open the sheath, the upper half holds the CD, and the lower half holds Émigré Magazine Issue No. 60. For those of you not familiar with the magazine, it purports itself to be "Where Design and Music Intersect," a design magazine that "cross[es] borders into new territories." As Émigré itself reminds us, music as design have been tacitly (or not-so-tacitly) aligned all along, what with art and design students/musicians like David Byrne and the Clash and relationships between record labels and designers like Vaughan Oliver and 4AD, Peter Saville and Factory, etc. It's just a step further in the relationship between art and music.

Émigré uses Honey Barbara's latest release to show its inventiveness in design, using their numerous fonts and styles to make what in traditional packaging would be termed liner notes, lyrics and all. That's not all, however; the magazine also features an essay by Naomi Yang and a poem and pictures from the book Joshua Tree, a tribute to Gram Persons and the Southern California desert.

And the music? Honey Barbara creates a wonderful backdrop to the magazine's contents, which are often about and finer and weaker points of Los Angeles. The two just work remarkably well together. Honey Barbara's music is dark, intelligent and very eerie. Everyone in Honey Barbara is in his or her forties; they've been together since 1988, and their sound shows it. There is a deep sense of nostalgia found on 1-10 & W. Ave., whether for cowboys on "Pards" ("Down Broadway deep into the big open country/ where he can yippi yi kiyay/ to the tune of the moon/ as he wants to/and heifers can be left alone to graze… that's what we call a cowboy here") or referencing and darkening children's songs on "All Fall Down."

Honey Barbara's sound is sort of Bob Dylan-ish at some points (lyrics-which are very good, and sometimes vocals), but always very psychedelic and progressive. You can also trace Native American and African influences on 1-10 & W. Ave. as well, especially with Lisa Kuehl's marvelous percussion on songs like "Come Away."

This is Émigré's last free release, so if there's a way you can get your hands on it, I'd strongly advise you to do so. Otherwise, try and find another release by Honey Barbara. I can't say the utter eeriness of their music won't turn some people off, but, for the rest of you, I'd say this is one of the more interesting releases I've had to review for Lost At Sea. It's great if you're feeling a little trippy or want to hear something that might freak you out. Both disturbing and fascinating.

Reviewed by Jeanette Samyn
A contributing writer for LAS and a former music director WBAR at Barnard College.

See other reviews by Jeanette Samyn



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