- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

While writing material for Honeyhoney’s debut album, guitarist Ben Jaffe found himself musing over the “Kill Bill” soundtrack. One song from the Quentin Tarantino film remained lodged in his brain:Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang,” a moody murder ballad brimming with torch-song melodies and spaghetti Western guitar tones.

Inspired to create something similarly cinematic, the guitarist penned “Little Toy Gun.” It became the lead single from Honeyhoney’s inaugural album, “First Rodeo,” a diverse offering of Americana and jazzy folk.

Released in November, the disc wasted little time attracting a number of A-list listeners — from actor Kiefer Sutherland (who co-owns the band’s label, Ironworks, and plays a card-dealing villain in the “Little Toy Gun” video) to musician Gavin DeGraw.

“First Rodeo” also secured Honeyhoney a spot on Mr. DeGraw’s spring tour, which rolls into the Birchmere Music Hall on Sunday.

“We’re going ‘deuce’ for this part of the tour,” says vocalist-violinist Suzanne Santo, who typically is joined onstage by Mr. Jaffe and a pair of backing musicians.

“It’s just the two of us,” she says.

The two members of Honeyhoney met in Los Angeles. An Ohio native and former child model, Miss Santo had relocated to the area in support of her burgeoning acting career. Meanwhile, Mr. Jaffe busied himself with composition projects, including several jobs that required him to pen music for Nickelodeon’s television programs.

The two began composing songs together, and their shared affection for movies helped develop the band’s budding sound. Some songs recalled the earthy, sepia-toned ambience of Southern landscapes, while others were more evocative of empty apartments and loveless evenings. “Little Toy Gun,” on the other hand, channeled the ironically kitschy swagger of the Old West.

Honeyhoney still watches movies, often while crisscrossing the country in the band’s touring van. “For the sake of comedy,” Miss Santo jokingly explains, “watching ‘Wayne’s World’ and ‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story’ in the van has really inspired some rock ‘n’ roll stage banter at our shows.”

If making music is what Honeyhoney does best, banter follows close behind. Mr. Jaffe and Miss Santo joke, jab and jostle throughout our three-way phone conversation, laughing at each other’s comments and apologizing for speaking at the same time.

Should Sunday evening’s performance not convince the audience of the band’s affability, one gloriously chaotic phone call will do the trick.

Honeyhoney and Mr. DeGraw will visit the Birchmere Music Hall on Sunday. The sold-out show begins at 7:30 p.m.

Concert roundup

This weekend marks the return of Kings of Leon to the D.C. area. Although famous in the United Kingdom since their 2003 debut, the Tennessee-bred musicians only recently conquered America with a blend of arena-ready guitar stomp and Southern-styled rock. “Only by the Night” topped the charts in multiple countries upon its release last year, and the band has supported the album’s meteoric success with near-permanent residence on the road. Having recently returned from an Australian tour, Kings of Leon will spend the remainder of the year in concert venues across America, Europe and Canada. Catch the rock ‘n’ roll royalty at the Patriot Center on Friday.

Having established her bluegrass credentials with Nickel Creek, songwriter Sara Watkins made her solo debut with the April release of “Sara Watkins,” a self-titled batch of roots music and pop songs. Miss Watkins began pursuing a solo career at the behest of Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, who encouraged her to perform her own shows in Los Angeles. As a result, her engaging album pays homage to the bluegrass icons that inspired Nickel Creek as well as the long line of songwriters who have called Los Angeles their home. She brings that same blend of country twang and Pacific pop to the 9:30 Club Saturday. Justin Jones, an emerging singer-songwriter with a flair for harmonica riffs, will open the show.

The Handsome Family and Marissa Nadler visit the Iota Club on Sunday. A former painter, Miss Nadler brushes her folk music with haunting arrangements and a stately Celtic lilt. Her latest album, “Little Hells,” also makes forays into psychedelic rock, making it one of the more interesting folk records of the year. The Massachusetts native will be opening for the Handsome Family, a husband-wife duo whose music is similarly rooted in surreal, evocative folk. Released in early April, the album “Honey Moon” distances the band from its gothic past with a sunnier disposition drawn from the couple’s 20-year marriage. Nevertheless, the music still delves into mysterious, ethereal passages, making the Handsome Family an appropriate match for Miss Nadler’s pastoral atmospherics.

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