I’m always on board when talented people find each other. It just always makes sense when musicians with common passions throw in and double down for that elusive gold. The culmination of individual experience moves into a collective powerhouse of presentation and style that is tough to beat.
That thought brings me to my next Shoreworld guest. Williams Honor is the “Country by the Sea” duo comprised of producer/multi-instrumentalist Gordon Brown (Mr. Reality, Highway 9) and powerhouse vocalist Reagan Richards. The group’s name flows as smoothly as their collective songwriting skills. Fueled by the memory of their fathers—American patriots who they wanted to pay homage to—Williams Honor is a true American success story in the making.
Both Brown and Richards have roots that go back years in the Nashville scene. And while they are sometimes inaccurately portrayed as strictly shore artists, their true passion and soul comes from a seasoned hybrid of both Music City, USA, and that tradition-laden East Coast vibe. When it comes to combining those elements, Williams Honor is very much on target.
Brown is no stranger to the business and has produced, toured with, and supported a myriad of today’s rising stars. Artists such as Natalie Stovall (Hitshop/Warner Nashville), Jesse James Decker (Universal), ABC’s Rising Star contender Audrey Kate Geiger, and NBC’s The Voice contestant Audra McLaughlin are a few of a long list of talent Brown has helped kick start into the public fast lane. But one of the most interesting highlights is that he is the founding guitarist and songwriter for Highway 9 (RCA Nashville). Brown and crew made historic headlines when they became Asbury Park’s very first act to sign a major country-oriented deal. He proved that you could live an hour outside of Manhattan and still appeal to the guy who just came in off of a bass boat on the Kentucky/Tennessee border. Richards is also a very in demand vocalist best known for her time alongside stars such as the late, great Les Paul, Darlene Love, Lisa Loeb, David Gray, and Michael Des Barres.
Brown muses on stylistic influences in a comparison of how the old guard might be represented in the now. He tells us, “If some of Jersey’s finest came out today instead of 30 years ago, they might be Keith Urban or Kip Moore. Just as if John Mellencamp was putting out his first album he might be Kenny Chesney. If The Eagles or Fleetwood Mac came out right now, they would be Little Big Town.”
Williams Honor has already given the public a peek into their sound through their debut single, “Mama Please,” to impressive reaction from fans and industry alike. Dramatically framed, “Mama Please” is steeped in domestic realities that take place behind closed doors all across America.
The tune fires off a salvo of banjos, mandolins, and guitars sending out rattlesnake warnings and picking and pulsing under foot-stomping drum work. Richards gears up, cocks the hammer and fires both barrels into the verse with dynamic force. Brown is the master support teamster here, and while the pair may have hired other musicians to play on this song, I can hear his handiwork on every track on the tune. His production skill is right there in full sight. Guitars chuck and slide as Reagan lays sultry, 1970s-influenced storytelling all over the top of this sure-fire hit before slipping back into the next imploring verse.
This song sings with the spirit of the Bobby Russell penned “That’s The Night That The Lights Went Out In Georgia.” Perhaps it’s the dark, building soundscape that mixes ominous lyrical content with Richards’ smooth and smoky Vicki Lawrence crescendo. The hypnotic build leads the listener into big, bold choruses that keep you hitting the replay button for days. Brown pulls off some tasty slide work in the middle-eight. Drawing cold rolled steel down the neck like Johnny Hiland, Brown is the directive hand up Mona Lisa’s skirt. Like Al Pacino alludes to in The Devil’s Advocate, “He’s a surprise, and they’ll never see him coming.” That’s the situation here, and any specific way you slice it, it’s a fantastic song filled with well-executed compositional ideas.
Williams Honor is a band that has put their collective money where their mouth is and has scored well with a single that blends reality of life and the art of universal songwriting presentation. Brown and Richards have taken their musical chances out on a limb, and it has held up beautifully. That’s the great result of believing in your vision and doing things your way, the right way.
Brown says in his press release, “I have always been able to find my voice within a song by challenging myself to write for those that want to express their story. I find great reward in that. When a song connects and gets sung back to you, there is no better feeling in the world. Reagan and I are lucky to come from a deep and rich Jersey Shore history where the neighborhood makes you believe in the elements to make that happen. We both found all of those same elements shining bright in Nashville for the many years we’ve been able to work there.”
It’s funny; as I was reading the information for this piece, I smiled at the time-honored way that Williams Honor appreciates and respects the importance of radio. WHTG 106.3 stood tall in the 1980s and early 1990s as New Jersey’s premier alternative music station; now, as the tides have continued to turn, they are the state’s attention-grabbing country outlet. Brown goes on to give props, “I am so proud of all my friends from 106.3 who are still on the radio and are willing to support our music. Some may call it country; others may call it rock or pop, but at the end of the day, the genre lines are all finally blurred.”
At the end of the day, Williams Honor is all about getting fans involved in music. And it’s not only their music, but the music and style that have quietly dominated the charts in the past, present and future. It’s about the continued excitement, passion and performance-filled journeys that lay over the next county line or around the next interstate bend. It’s about sharing the outlook of life each and every day.
Reagan Richards, who is as funny as she is talented, sums it up best. “Getting to work with such great artists has given me even more passion for doing this. My inspirations are endless. As early as I can remember, this is all I’ve wanted to do. Singing, writing, performing and connecting with people is what I do best, ’cause God knows I can’t cook.”
The new Williams Honor record is scheduled for release on April 21, 2015.
You can see Williams Honor first hand on Jan. 17 at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, NJ as part of the Light of Day 2015 Parkinson’s benefit.
For more information and a performance schedule, check out Williams Honor over at facebook.com/williamshonor.