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Honey Island Swamp Band: Group at Work

Tom Speed | July 25, 2013

Honey Island Swamp Band’s rustic, roots vibe follows the tradition of melding country, soul, funk and blues flavors to render a sound that is decidedly New Orleanian but with an Americana twist. Mandolin and Hammond B3 figure prominently alongside searing, swampy guitar work.

Recorded at New Orleans’ Piety Street Studios during the course of a year, Cane Sugar is a sophisticated step forward for the group. Since their inception in 2005, the band has been staking claim to the Crescent City roots-rock throne previously occupied by folks like The Radiators and the subdudes.

So when it came time to cut Cane Sugar, their fourth record, the group sought the help of an outside producer for the first time. They found veteran John Porter, who has worked with diverse acts such as Roxy Music, The Smiths, Ryan Adams and Buddy Guy.

The key was to identify someone with an outside perspective who wouldn’t treat them with kid gloves. “We wanted to get a sure-fire third-party producer,” says mandolin player and vocalist Aaron Wilkinson. “It was important that it was someone we didn’t know very well.”

Porter encouraged the band to start with their new material, rather than songs from their live repertoire. And he became Jonathon Kingsbury (Features); Josh Sanseri (Honey Island) a crucial cog in the songwriting process. “He was into doing some pre-production,” says Wilkinson. “So he brought his guitar over and he and [guitarist] Chris [Mulé] and I sat down for three days of writing sessions.”

Though they did write new material specifically for the album, they had road-tested other songs. For a band with a penchant for exploration, that posed a challenge when it came to pulling the reins back, and that’s when Porter played a crucial role too.

“‘One Shot’ is a song that we get weird on in the live show,” explains Wilkinson. “We stretch out and let it go wherever it wants to go. In the studio, that can’t work the same way. That’s one where John helped us trim it up and tighten it down. He has a real knack for that.”