Appalachian life is warm and sentimental—tender in the same way that grandma feeds her young chickens by twisting dried corn kernels from the cob. By early fall, she rings their necks with the same swift motion, proving that the life is also a real and harsh one. It’s a hand-to-mouth existence in a place that is both beautiful and baffling, simple, and yet so complex.
The Local Honeys illustrate that life, transporting you to a certain time and place with their new self-titled album. Through their original songwriting and highlighting the traditional music of their Kentucky home, duo Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs carefully and lovingly craft a modern Appalachia in their latest collection of songs.
“This album is more or less a songwriting album,” explains Stokley. With past LPs that celebrated all the different facets of traditional music, this new album lets their original song stylings shine. Innovative and rule breaking, their music marries tradition with grooves all their own. “It’s not us trying to be anything other than ourselves,” she continues.
Riddled with intricate storytelling and traditional instrumentation, the album is reflective, gritty, and honest as the twosome address their rural identity and touch on some of the prominent issues that Appalachians face today. “The underlying theme of this album would be ruralism,” says Hobbs. Their music encompasses themes of life, change, death with songs exploring womanhood, mental health, pride of place, and the importance of family history with ruralism at the center of it all.
The song “If I Could Quit,” for example, tackles the difficult subject of the opioid epidemic that has consistently plagued Appalachia for the past decade. While begging for an end to the horrors, the track recounts firsthand experiences of watching a friend at the mercy of addiction.
Songs on this album are not sugar coated. A stark reality runs deep in songs like “Dead Horses,” another emotional tune that illustrates the realities of animal husbandry. Having both grown up on farms, the duo illuminates that along with new life comes a heavy knowledge and expectance of death.
However moody or haunting, many of the songs on their new album are love letters to Kentucky and the rural Appalachian region as a whole. A lot of the songs are playful, peppered with regional eccentricity. “We are both very invested in our home,” Hobbs explains, “I think the album is really dedicated to the sense of home and the people who make up our home—all the responsibilities that come with being prideful of where you’re from.”
“Whenever we can tell a story,” Stokley adds, “if that can bring a pride in your own self or your own community or your own culture, I feel like we’ve done our job.”
The Local Honeys’ songs also celebrate the natural wonders of their home in a way that is practically tangible for listeners. A sharp pull on the fiddle—like the shrill creak of a porch swing—sends you over misty mountain tops, down into the mouth of a shadowy holler. With the hollow plucks of the banjo—as deep and as lonesome as a coal mine—you can almost hear the echoes in the pines. Their rich, muddy, deep-holler sound paints a rural Kentucky. Wild and untamed, but not untouched.
“The beauty and the natural aspect of Appalachia is wonderful. It does come with a price though,” says Hobbs, “Our region has been taken advantage of for a very long time, especially due to extractive industries.” While industries like oil, gas, coal, and timber have left corporate America richer, they’ve left the region and its people exploited, soot-stained, and threadbare.
While Appalachian communities are constantly building and changing, the region is still 20 years behind the rest of the nation with many of its people unfairly typecasted as the dumb and downtrodden, the collective unwashed and unshoe’d. “We’ve heard some pretty damning things about Kentucky,” Hobbs continues, “I think with places that have been overly stereotyped, we certainly feel a responsibility to stand up for it and to also own up to the ugly bits and try to help to move forward in a positive direction.”
“Regardless of how the outside world is viewing of Kentucky or of Appalachia,” adds Stokley, “Kentuckians are an absolute commonwealth of proud people. We are so proud to be where we’re from and we almost feel like it’s a bit of a hidden gem.”
Stokley and Hobbs are shaped by their home state—all of its beauties and intricacies—but as purveyors of tradition they are also shaping Kentucky. The two cut their teeth on traditional music and are among a younger generation cultivating and maintaining it. “A lot of people are under the impression that it’s a very archaic form,” Stokley says. And yes, American traditional music is an old art form, but it’s a living and breathing one still. The Local Honeys’ songwriting is the perfect addition and continuation of that tradition.
With keeping tradition alive also comes a responsibility to pay homage. “Because we’re traditional artists, we like to pay respect to those who came before us,” says Hobbs, citing master songsmith and fellow statesman, Tom T. Hall, as a big influence on this project. However, with the opening track, “The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore,” written by another fellow Kentuckian Jean Richie, they tip their hat to the often overlooked and unsung. “We wanted that to kick off the album,” explains Stokley, “so that we could put this powerful song by one of the most underrated songwriters from our region. She’s also one of the songwriters that made us unapologetic. She paved the way for women to speak their voice.”
As women in a male dominated culture, the duo don’t consider their gender a hindrance, but instead an honor. “Historically, women have been the purveyors of traditional art forms and cultural practices,” Stokley adds. “A lot of traditional musicians and singers, they learned to sing and play from their mothers or their grandmothers like Ralph Stanley … they’re kind of like the unsung heroes, the thread that’s kind of held it all together,” she continues.
“We definitely have a mentality that we won’t be held back just because of our gender, just because of what we check off on a box,” explains Hobbs, “We say what’s on our mind but we know that some people will listen and some people will not… we still have to say it. We still have to get it off our chest.”
Among other artists in their community, the two have found strong support. “We’re very lucky that this artist community in Kentucky is very welcoming and open and supportive of everyone,” says Hobbs. It is a place where everyone is encouraged to create and where everyone is championed to succeed. Fortunate also to live and practice within a community that prides and cherishes mentorship, the duo have had knowledge passed onto them. “There was no gatekeeping in traditional music,” Hobbs explains, excited for when they can do the same for others. “We want to be old ladies one day who some young duo of women say ‘Can we come visit and learn some of those old songs that you do.’ We can’t wait for that day where we can pass that on,” she adds.
In staying true to themselves as musicians while adding to the life and legacy of traditional music, The Local Honeys have no doubt joined the ranks of the great Appalachian musicians who came before. They will continue to shed light on and accurately depict the realities of a modern Appalachia and a rural South through their music and advocacy of their home.