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California Honeydrops set for Monmouth appearance this Friday

2013-14 WOU Smith Fine Arts Series

The California Honeydrops have received a number of awards in the San Francisco Bay area. The quintet performs Friday night at Rice Auditorium

Brian Spady for the Itemizer-Observer

The California Honeydrops have received a number of awards in the San Francisco Bay area. The quintet performs Friday night at Rice Auditorium

January 07, 2014

MONMOUTH — The California Honeydrops have dug deep into the roots of American music, embracing the traditions of blues, gospel, second-line New Orleans jazz, and early rhythm and blues.

Those are the sounds the Oakland, Calif.-based group will bring to Monmouth on Friday night, when the 2013-14 Smith Fine Arts Series resumes at Western Oregon University's Rice Auditorium.

The band's third and most recent full-length studio album, "Like You Mean It," released in April 2013, is considered their most cohesive work to date. According to the band's website, "the 13 original songs range from infectious and danceable tunes to soulful ballads."

Lead singer Lech Wierzynski is able to balance powerful vocals with a conversational intimacy and humor that hark back to the golden ages of soul and country music. The trumpet and saxophone sounds shout out jubilant riffs, landing the listener somewhere between a New Orleans street parade and a Stax soul review. The rhythm section churns out a unique fusion of Caribbean, rhythm and blues, and second-line street beats. In all, the group defies being lumped into any one genre.

The California Honey-drops' originality and appeal is reflected in a wide ranging fan base that has been developed without the help of a major record label or major booking agency. The 5-year-old band is developing a reputation for its energetic and intimate live shows that usually have fans dancing in the aisles.

The group was recently voted the San Francisco Bay Area's "Best Soul/R&B Band." It was nominated for "Best New Artist" by the National Blues Foundation (2009), and received five East Bay Express Reader's Poll awards in 2011, including "Best Band," "Best Album" and "Best Musician."

Joining Wierzynski on stage are bandmates Johnny Bones (saxophonist), Ben Malament (drums, bass), Chris Burns (piano/keyboards) and Nansamba Ssensalo (bass, drums).

The appearance in Monmouth by The California Honeydrops is one of five concerts scheduled by the band this month. Other stops are in Ashland (Wednesday), Sisters (Thursday), Eugene (Sunday) and Portland (Jan. 31).

Friday's concert is also one of two scheduled in January as part of the Smith Fine Arts Series. "Fiddler's Night," featuring Andrea Beaton and Kevin Burke, is set for Jan. 24.

If You Go …

What: The California Honeydrops, part of the 2013-14 Western Oregon University Smith Fine Arts Series.

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Rice Auditor-ium, Western Oregon University, 345 N. Monmouth Ave., Mon-mouth.

Admission: General, $25 in advance, $28 at the door; students, $11; free rush tickets for WOU students day of the event.

For more information: 503-838-8333; www.wou.edu/sfa; www.cahoneydrops.com.

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