The California Honeydrops Drop In

Southern-Style R&B arrives at the UC Theatre.


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The California Honeydrops have come a long way from playing BART stations.

Courtesy of The California Honeydrops

The California Honeydrops spent a good chunk of the past year opening for Bonnie Raitt, and it doesn’t take long listening to the Bay Area quintet to figure out what the legendary blueswoman digs about the band. With roots planted deep in the fertile soil of the American South the Honeydrops are steeped in New Orleans R&B, Delta blues, Mussel Shoals soul, gospel, and early jazz.

While the band’s personnel evolved considerably over the past decade, the group has stayed true to the guiding vision of trumpeter, vocalist, and guitarist Lech Wierzynkski, who avidly absorbed an array of African-American styles via vintage recordings while growing up in Warsaw during the last fitful years of the Cold War. With an uncanny ability to channel Louis Armstrong on trumpet and a voice that evokes various R&B icons, Wierzynkski seems to have unmediated access to foundational American music forms, which he credits to his lack of interest in folk and blues revivalists. He always wants to go directly to the source. “I would hear Hendrix or a gospel influenced tune like ‘Moanin’ by Art Blakey and I was always interested in checking out where it came from . . . the rootsy stuff, the blues,” he said.

Raitt turned on to the Honeydrops shortly after the band celebrated the release of its fifth album, A River’s Invitation (Tubtone) with two sold-out Fillmore shows. The group headlines a New Year’s Eve concert at the UC Theatre, offering a soulful conclusion to a year in dire need of succor. The album opens with a convincing version of R&B crooner Percy Mayfield’s classic New Orleans-inflected “River’s Invitation,” but every song that follows is a Wierzynkski original, and each piece sounds as authentic and gritty as the title track.

California Honeydrops, 8 p.m., Dec. 31, UC Theatre, 2036  University Ave., Berkeley, $55,  510-356-4000, TheUCTheatre.org.

 

This report appeared in the December edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

Published online on Dec. 20, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

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