And he recorded the whole thing in a week, on a 4-track machine, after suffering a devastating breakup. Nothing, I mean nothing, inspires genius like torturous pain.
"Letdown" leads things off, and it resembles a musical sequel to "Take It to the Limit," with Johnstone pulling a vocal that lands somewhere between Neil Young and Randy Meisner. "Airport Breakfast" is fear of flying set to a Traveling Wilburys rhythm, smothered in four-layered "doot doo doo" vocals that recall the Eagles at their peak.
The most curious addition is Johnstone's dead serious country take of the Thompson Twins' "Hold Me Now." As an experiment in genre hopping, the song works surprisingly well. Moving the song out of its synth pop roots actually shows how good a song it was in the first place. However, Johnstone's originals are so, so good that "Hold Me Now" winds up paling by comparison. (His vocal on the song is also startlingly off key at points.) Most bands do covers because their originals need some help. In this instance, Johnstone may have actually done himself a disservice by choosing a cover over one of his originals. Rare is the songwriter who can be accused of such a thing.
"Stay" is Local Honey's showstopper, a beautiful, brilliant ballad set to an easy calypso beat that is nothing short of devastating. "How can I ever make amends for what I've done/Even the sun has turned away/It blackens my heart/Darkens my days." The tailing line of "I know I did you wrong, girl" over the fade has a hook the size of Titanic's anchor. One of the best love gone wrong songs of recent memory. He should send it to the Backstreet Boys. Seriously, it'd be a huge hit if they sang it.
Quick confession: I was never a fan of the Eagles, Jackson Browne, Ronstadt, et al growing up. I never hated them, but I didn't particularly love them much either. It must seem therefore odd that I would gush over an album like Local Honey, right? Chalk it up to nostalgia. The songs that pass for well-written hit singles today sound sterile to me, like they were produced in a lab. The songs on Local Honey follow the old code of songwriting, and I find that immensely appealing. So what if I would have ignored it 15 years ago. The fact is, it's out now, and it couldn't have come at a better time. This is guaranteed to be in my Top-Five at year's end. A truly great record.