Honey Shake Me begins and ends by answering the question, with peals of fingerpicked laughter and distantly squealing pedal steel, how would it feel to french exit on your whole goddamn life? To just pack it up and hit the bricks: exhilarating, delicious, an AM radio soundtrack cutting through the receding smog, a little silver-lined cloud of sadness trailing the busted sedan in which you're speeding west. Roll down the windows, turn it up a little bit louder, if you drive fast enough the sun will never set.
It's an album of transit, a collection of highway songs - there's a "welcome to" state sign at every track break. It was written on the road - chords and lyrics bubbled up for songwriter Mark Bucci in the liminal passage between tour peaks and gulfs, epiphanies at 15 mph over the speed limit. The songs formed from a driver’s seat while watching a whole country psychically tear itself asunder, white lines and stop signs beating a steady rhythm as the nation melted and warped, like a vinyl copy of "This Land is Your Land" left on the dashboard. Up until those touring days, Brewster had been Mark Bucci's project - his to write for, his to play on and produce, with a few contributions by his brother Chuck and others. But in the process of capturing these asphalt missives, while the COVID-empty house boomed with re-amped guitars, something changed. The band was now the vibe, camaraderie both the form and the content, the people both the audience and the whole point - let's get together, whoever you are.
Now with up to as many as six members, they're a stone-cold, wide-armed band, welcoming any and all emotive music to gather under the tent. There's honky tonk heartbreak, the shabby charm of the Knitters, and the winter-road-salt-worn Winnipeg wryness of John K. Samson. "No One Told Us the Secret Yet" mentions a specific Wilco album by name. High and low: John Brion's Hollywood seven chords abound and track eight sounds just a bit like Lynard Skynard. "Countryside" has a synth part that would sound right at home on a Boards of Canada track, but the band slips in a reference to David Berman. Bruce's ecstatic shadow grows long in the late afternoon light - Brewster, too, believes in the transcendent experience of singing to a sweaty crowd. And above it all is Mark's voice, disarmingly sweet, at times angelic, smokey as a cheap casino on a hot afternoon.
There's a specific, cinematic story that this album tells - there are characters, loves left, sketchy party memories, the names of many American states. Mark's lyrics are evocative and a little obscured, like the mistranslation of talking to someone in the pit at a basement punk show. Lines like "buckled knees at the video store and mini-mall gravestones / might as well be where Elvis died in velvet suicide catacombs" draw a pencil outline of every sad strip mall in the lower 48. But the greatest trick this deep well of songs pulls off is that this specific story will sound eerily familiar to almost everyone - those who have felt the wild abandon of securing a driver's permit, those who have risked their lives at DIY venues, those who have steamed up car windows, those who have driven around aimlessly nursing a sundered heart, those who have ever commiserated with another miserable stranger in a lonesome bar. Honey Shake Me casts quite a spell - you might find yourself writing postcards to lovers whose faces you can't remember from bombed out towns you've never been to.
Brewster lavishly welcomes you to a moment of perpetual summer twilight, one steady-handed drum fill and you're launched, waterslide-like, into a parking lot at dusk, asphalt skin-warm, the sun dipping but never quite touching. Twangy country music leaking from car speakers to the left and jubilant hardcore ringing out from speakers to the right. You are wearing a Tom Petty t-shirt, well loved. There are beers, magically refreshing, every sip the first one. The edenic in the paved, a garden of delight, sweet and serene and yet still you are not satisfied. You still want something, you want it bad, the want is so delicious - wouldn't know what to do with it if you got it. In Brewster's summer sundown the yearning is the whole of it, so keep it moving.
written by Ben Seretan