MUSIC REVIEW | Real Phonic Radio: Honey Honey and Brandon Sampson


I heard three kinds of country at Real Phonic Radio this month: steamy, wholesome and bluesy – in that order. The night capped off with some bluesy country with Honey Honey. Not all of their music was bluesy but it’s what distinguished it from the other bands tonight. Honey Honey is a band out of Nashville featuring Suzanne Santo (vocals/banjo/violin) and Ben Jaffe (vocals/guitar). They’re young and personable on stage. Cute as buttons. Her voice has edges of raspiness, a little like Twin Cities’ local favorite Caroline Smith. He can play two instruments at once, which is always humbling for those of us who quit piano after one year. They started with Angel of Death, dark subject matter with a cheerful tune. A nice blend. They played a few new songs, such as Big Man, with another pretty dark theme. There’s always something incongruent about such dark themes with a young band, cute as buttons but it worked – I’m sure because they packed a lot of power in the music as well. They also played some old favorites – Ohio and Thin Line. They played an old new song, which Santo described as a song that was held back a grade: Yours to Bear (or Bare – hard to tell when not in writing). The harmony of the vocals helped that song shine.

Brandon Sampson (from Six Mile Grove) brought a wholesome country up from Lyle, Minnesota, his hometown – where Sampson apparently he was runner up for the 1994 high school talent show – out of a class of 15. His stories and songs were snapshots of country life and country living. He played most of the set solo – his voice, his guitar. Both were clear and easy and well, wholesome. His voice really is pitch perfect and there was something very solitary but inviting about his performance. Erik Koskinen joined him for a final duet; that brought a nice complexity to the stage.

Ben Weaver read the third installment of his epic poem, Raggedy Ass Joy. In honor of spring, he read all of the parts of the poem about women. I’ve written about his in previous article – his poetry is nature-based and paints a picture. It’s a luxury to get to hear a poem read aloud, especially as read by the poet. Getting to hear an epic poem in pieces over time feels like a double luxury.

Last, but not least, especially since on stage they were first was the Real Phonic Radio Band: Erik Koskinen, Paul Bergen, JT Bates and Frankie Lee. Tonight they were sort of steamy – well one song was pretty steamy about A Girl with a Red Dress On with a slow drum and twangy strings. They also played First Time in Years off the record released last month.

Real Phonic Radio is a monthly concert series held at the James J. Hill Library. Two of the performers today noted their surprise at what a gorgeous library it is and how nice it was to have music in such a prestigious setting. It was a good reminder of how lucky we are in St Paul to take something like that for granted.