April 20th, 2019 | Album reviews

Raw Honey
Mexican Summer

In the pantheon of bands with cheeky names that feel weird to Google, Drugdealer stands out as one of the most unexpectedly musically transcendent. Sometimes humor can be the defense mechanism of choice for the sensitive soul. That sensitivity is on full display on Drugdealer’s follow-up to The End of Comedy, starting with the single “Honey,” for which bandleader (kingpin?) Michael Collins enlists the deep and syrupy voice of Weyes Blood‘s Natalie Mering, with a harmony assist from The Lemon Twigs. Under the hashtag “#emo,” Collins explains on social media, “This one is particularly meaningful to me… I wanted to lay out a ballad dedicated to the treacherously emotional ‘in your feelings’ weirdos that can’t turn it off.” Perhaps he even counts himself among them? When Mering sings lines like, “I know that you want to be seen, and to be heard, oh to be loved / It’s not a crime,” get ready for the waterworks, gentle souls. This one feels like a sonic hug. Next up, fellow sensitive chanteur Harley Hill-Richmond of Harley and the Hummingbirds continues the exploration of intimacy by lending his considerable sweetness and light to the song “Lonely.” “How long have you had this look on your face?” he wonders. “You’re just too lovely, and all you can do is think of pain.” Meanwhile, New York City cowboy Dougie Poole brings a contrasting and appealingly weathered, world-weary Lee Hazlewood feel to his vocal duties on “Wild Motion,” singing, “They over intellectualize, but you taught them how to empathize, didn’t you?” Drugdealer remains as blissfully unafraid of schmaltz as they are of feelings, deploying strings, saxophones, pianos, revving motors, rainstorms, George Harrison-worthy guitar licks and any other tools at their disposal to make your heart soar in that old fashioned AM radio way—but somehow the ship never veers into the nausea-inducing waves of cheesiness that have sunk many a less skilled sailor of 1970s soundscapes. Raw Honey embraces Beach Boys-style full band harmonies—see instant classic “Fools”—with a little Steely Dan smoothness, John Lennon tuneful wisdom, some of Todd Rundgren‘s dramatic flare, and a touch of Derek and the Dominos-era Clapton Strat magic. “Nobody wants to feel they’ve got to hide themselves,” Collins sings over a sea of triumphant strings on “Lost in My Dream.” He’s not hiding his feelings and talents here, or those of his merry band of collaborators, and before long, you just might find yourself hooked. He’s got the good stuff. And this time around, it’s just love and understanding—the sweetest high of all.

Donna Kern