Needle Drop: Honey West, Bad Old World

“I’m crazier than ever—I don’t wanna get better!” Ted Zurkowski sings in “Dementia,” the cleverly catchy single off Honey West’s Bad Old World album. Honey West is a band—not a woman—and they’ve released their debut record this past May via Readout Records.

As the single’s title and group’s name suggest, New York-based Honey West has a soft spot for the long-lasting. Perhaps this soft spot isn’t too surprising, given Honey West’s intimate relationship with rock and roll legacies. Vocalist-guitarist (and actor, founder of New York’s Shakespearean Co. Frog & Peach) Ted Zurkowski makes up one half of the group’s songwriting and conceptual nucleus. Multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald makes up the other half—you might know Ian too, in fact, if you’re a classic rock regular, you probably do.

McDonald is perhaps most immediately recognizable via his major roles in the foundation and subsequent super-success of rock bands King Crimson (1968-9) and Foreigner (1976-80). The versatile musicality, innovative composing, and production prowess that McDonald displayed during his stints with both bands is impossible to deny. The creative hand that he wields now with confidence and grace on Bad Old World, re-proves these same truths.

Along for the ride with McDonald and Zurkowski are Maxwell McDonald (bass) and Wings’ Steve Holley (drums), plus a few cameos from Graham Maby (who’s worked with Joe Jackson) on bass. Over the course of the debut album’s twelve original tracks, Honey West maintains an allegiance to the wild abandon and reverence for good fun articulated in its “Dementia” refrain.

“September Issue” powerfully opens the record, immediately setting the tone as one guided by guitars. This is a back-to-rock-basics turn for Ian McDonald who, despite being an ace guitarist, has a rich resume full of saxophone (notably on T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get it On)”), flute, vibraphone, and keyboards too. Honey West, at its greatest, provides a forum for him to utilize the classic rock quartet format to his talents’ advantage. Zurkowski’s vocals serve as a fitting match for the band too; they seek to establish and maintain an overall attitude of charismatic indignation, the trademark of any rock and roll singer.

The rest of Bad Old World’s tracks flow from there with spunk and real-world-rebellion. Of particular note are “Generationless Man,” with its catchy riff and danceworthy guitar work, and “Sylvia Strange,” with its strong reggae beat and clever use of departing-seagull-sounds at the fadeout. “California” too, is a standout song that puts forth a sound lovingly reminiscent of The Beatles’ “I Need You,” complete with ear-tingling three-part harmonies. Lyrically, “California” manages to capture the familiar seductive allure of the great state, yet remains fresh and of-the-present.

Perhaps the most intellectually satisfying track on the record is “Terry and Julie,” an inquisitive reflection on the potential fates of The Kinks’ protagonistic “Waterloo Sunset” lovedoves. Though “Terry and Julie” deals with two people, one can’t help but read its contents as representing something more far-reaching than that. What happened to Terry and Julie? What happened to every young 1960s couple? Where are they now? Do they still have hope? Do we? The overall exuberance that comes through on Honey West’s Bad Old World encourages a resounding “yes.”

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