Belying their party band biography and dipping their toes into some heavy jazz vibes, the Honeydrops open A River’s Invitation with a cut that sounds more like Miles’ man On the Corner than a romp down the Rue Dauphine. The groove is Muscle Shoals deep, singer Lech Wierzynski’s voice is Sam Cooke wide, and saxophonist Johnny Bones bangs heavy on the door of Ben Webster, blowing hard in the background of this sexy bit of soulful jazz.
Those worried that the party is over need not fear, though. The album’s second cut, “When It Was Wrong,” can do little if not raise you from your seat, a full-on financing of the feeling we got when Smokey and the Miracles were still “shopping around.” On the head-bopping “Brokedown,” Wierzynski and company sound a little bit like their Oakland brethren, Tower of Power, while the dirty New Orleans blues of King Oliver lives in the DNA of "Cry Baby Blues."
The Jamaician-tinged “Jolie” sounds a bit ingenuine — “hey, let’s do a reggae song!” — but the band recovers healthily with “Crazy Girls,” a Stevie Wonder meets Hall & Oates gadabout that highlights the band’s broader vocal skills beyond Wierzynski's formidable pipes. “Lead Me Home” is a great idea — the heavily harmonized “oo-oo-oohs” are delicious — but the song really wants some ‘“She’s Gone” style lyrics. The backbeat groove of “Rockaway” and the second-line shuffle of “Long Way” are completely satisfying, closing the record on a high note.
Wierzynski’s the star here: His singing gets stronger and stronger with every record, and his horn playing is super-solid. But those who’ve seen their rambunctious live shows know the Honeydrops aren’t a one-man show — rather a band that’s hitting their stride and worthy of a river’s wide allowance of attention.