Great music begins with great songs, and great songs are what the Honey Island Swamp Band is all about. When they formed the band, Aaron Wilkinson and Chris Mulé had already established promising songwriting careers, both individually and as a team. Collaborating with fellow songwriter and Alligator Records recording artist Eric Lindell, the two were instrumental in the writing for Lindell’s acclaimed 2008 release Low on Cash, Rich in Love.
With Wishing Well, the first full-length release from Honey Island Swamp Band, both musicians bring their songwriting to new levels with their most fully-developed material to date. From the opening bars of the title track to the album’s final note, Wishing Well covers the entire landscape of southern roots music that has made the band’s live shows and eponymous 2007 EP favorites among music lovers of all genres.
Rockers like “Wishing Well” and “Seeds and Stems” evoke Exile on Main Street-era Stones, while the mid-tempo funk of “Natural Born Fool” and “Till the Money’s Gone” capture the bluesy soul of Delbert McClinton and early Black Crowes. Classic country fans will recognize the bar-room emotion of “I Can Tell” and “Dark End of the Bar,” while R&B lovers will appreciate the New Orleans flavor of “Killing Me” and the Stevie Wonder-esque “Expression of Love.” Eleven of the album’s thirteen songs testify to the strength of Wilkinson and Mulé’s songwriting, while inspired covers of Washboard Sam’s “Sophisticated Mama” and William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water” reflect the band’s wide range of influences.
The album was produced by Tom Drummond, bassist for New Orleans’ own Better Than Ezra. Drummond recorded the album at Ezra’s Fudge Studio, where the immediate challenge became whittling down the band’s extensive body of original songs to a manageable album-length recording. After settling on a set of songs representative of the band’s eclectic sound, the core group – Wilkinson on mandolin and guitar, Mulé on guitar, Sam Price on bass and Garland Paul on drums – took on the task of capturing their live energy on tape.
“It was a pleasure working with a band with such a wide variety of instrumentation,” Drummond says. “We wanted to make the record feel as organic as possible while still taking advantage of modern recording techniques. These guys kept me on my toes for sure. There are some great performances on this album to go along with some great songs.”
To bring their vision to life, the group invited an A-list of friends and former collaborators to get on board for the new record. New Orleans stalwart Marc Adams handles the keyboard work, while veteran saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter (Eric Lindell Band, Jimmy Thackery) contributes as both player and horn arranger. Mark Mullins and Craig Klein (Bonerama) round out the horn section, while legendary sousaphonist Kirk Joseph (Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Backyard Groove) holds down the bottom on several tracks. Multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and producer Sean Carey (Eric Lindell Band) adds his unique harmonica and vocal sounds to several tracks, while the dynamite duo of Gina Brown (Anutha Level, Tony Clifton) and Evelyn Montgomery (Tony Clifton) takes the band’s vocal harmonies to sultry depths and stratospheric heights. Rounding out this group of extraordinarily talented contributors are accordionist Greg Schatz (Schatzy) and clarinetist Tom Fischer.
The band will release Wishing Well April 17 as part of its debut performance at New Orleans’ French Quarter Festival. Performances at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Bayou Boogaloo and the YLC Wednesdays at the Square concert series round out a month-long album launch in New Orleans, after which the band will tour nationally in support of the new release.