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Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters Bring Their Catchy Hardscrabble Americana Songs to the Flower District This Friday Night

“Just got word today that the money is gonna be ok,” Amanda Anne Platt sings in her North Carolina twang. “Start looking for life in a bathroom mirror,” she adds as Birthday Song, the opening track on her latest album with her band the Honeycutters (streaming at Spotify), gets underway. They’re making a rare New York stop on June 1 at 9:30 PM at Hill Country.

In a world of suburbanites who put on cowboy hats and pretend they come from the sticks, Platt is the real deal, a strong, populist storyteller with a knack for a catchy hook. The narratives on this latest release are more guardedly optimistic than the band’s previous output. Between the woman in the supermarket checkout line, the sign in the record store and the beater Japanese car whose odometer’s been around twice, these people are struggling, but they also aren’t giving in. This is also more of a rock record, compared to the honkytonk flavor of much of the band’s earlier material.

“We were dying but you couldn’t tell,” Platt muses over a loping groove from bassist Rick Cooper and drummer Josh Milligan in Long Ride – but as it picks up steam, the song grows more optimistic, Matt Smith’s pedal steel floating overhead.

“Oh how I needed men to love me, it made me ugly, made me unkind,” Platt’s older and wiser narrator muses in the gently shuffling What We’ve Got, livened with Evan Martin’s rippling piano and a joyous steel solo: “All the time I thought I was wasting, I was just learning how to look you in the eye.”

With its rivers of organ and simmering, distorted guitar, Diamond in the Rough is one of the harder-rocking tracks here – The Who meets Lucinda Williams, maybe. Eden is a steady, shuffling celebration of “24 acres of Indiana farmland, Airstream trailer, living in the heartland,” told from the point of view of an ex-Bostonian who’s come home after losing her job. At the same time, she doesn’t miss people with “delusions of grandeur,” even while harsher realities set in.

The Guitar Case is a vividly weary early-morning chronicle of the endless tour musicians these days have to stay on just to pay the bills. Platt saves some of her most venomous commentary for one of the wannabes on the roadhouse circuit:

You look good on paper
On tv too
But the real thing ain’t a joke, you fool

By contrast, Learning How to Love Him is a sobering, spare look at the pros and cons of making it through a marriage to the empty nest years. Then the band kick back in with a summery soul feel in Brand New Start, a bittersweetly resigned breakup tale: Platt suggests a five-year relationship might be best memorialized by leaving a Christmas wreath up on the door for the sake of leaving a lasting impression of togetherness.

With its layers of piano, organ and steel, Late Summer’s Child is an old Creedence song with whitewall tires and a sunroof, more or less. The album’s best song is the noir soul ballad The Good Guys (Dick Tracy), slinking along with uneasy, echoey electric piano:

A skeleton in every closet
Everybody in another man’s pocket
Did you ever stop to think you got it wrong
You remember why you’re here tonight
Soft sell if the price is right
You’ve been losing at this same fight for so long
Dick Tracy there ain’t no more good guys
You could be on a plane tonight
Leave this wasted city far behind

The backbeat-driven, distantly doo-wop inflected Rare Things is a lot more upbeat, spiced with some neat gospel piano. Baritone guitar, saloon piano and steel blend together for an oldschool hard honkytonk vibe in The Things We Call Home. The album’s last song is the wistful front porch folk-flavored The Road. Platt and her band move through a lot of different styles here, something they’re likely to do onstage at the barbecue joint this weekend.

Powerful, Relevant Honkytonk Songwriting and a Rockwood Gig by the Honeycutters

More about that that really good Americana twinbill tomorrow night, June 18 at 7 at the big room at the Rockwood: Asheville, North Carolina’s Honeycutters are on it, along with the Hillbenders, who’ve gotten plenty of notoriety for outdoing the Who with their newgrass version of the Tommy album. The club’s webpage doesn’t say who’s playing first, but both bands are good and justify a $12 cover, which will probably double when the waitress swoops down on you and insists that you buy a drink.

Where the Hillbenders bring their sizzling chops to unexpected material, the Honeycutters are just as original, putting a current-day lyrical spin on classic honkytonk sounds. Their latest album, Me Oh My is streaming at Spotify. Frontwoman Amanda Anne Platt writes potently vivid narratives that mine the underside of hardscrabble rural America: her characters are people we all know. She sings in a purposeful, unaffected drawl over the twangy backdrop of multi-instrumentalist Matt Smith – who supplies guitar, dobro and pedal steel – along with Tal Taylor on mandolin, Rick Cooper on bass and Josh Miligan on drums. The playing and arrangements look back to a classic 60s Bakersfield sound, the mandolin adding a spiky Appalachian touch. The opening track, Jukebox, sets the tone, a swaying midtempo number with a cajoling cynicism: it’s sort of a “better enjoy this because this might be all we’ve got” scenario.

“They can lead you to the darkness but you don’t have to go quiet,” Platt reminds in the catchy, shuffling All You Ever Needed, a friendly warning to a pal who’s willing to settle for a place to sleep on the kitchen floor: it’s a potent portrait of dashed dreams and their consequences in Flyover America. “I had a baby but the Good Lord took her, she was an angel but her wings were crooked,” Platt observes in the slowly swaying, John Prine-inflected title track, a chillingly clear take on the downside of trying to start a family too young: “Some girls do better without that ball and chain,” her narrator explains.

With its hard-hitting beat, resonant organ and keening pedal steel, Edge of the Frame is a biting portrait of somebody who’s gotten too big for their britches. Ain’t It the Truth – which could be the Wallflowers with a pedal steel and a woman out front – is even grimmer, a study in the psychology of domestic abuse.

Carolina works another restless shuffle groove, while Texas ’81 paints a stark portrait of a relationship unraveling with the demands of family and responsibilities. The slow, moody Little Bird, with Phil Cook’s gospel-tinged piano, could be a prequel, a new bride pondering how long the honeymoon will last – or, more accurately, how long it won’t. Not That Simple keeps the slow-burning, morose vibe going, then Wedding Song brings some bluegrass-flavored optimism: “When you’re with me, honey, it’s like throwing loaded dice,” Platt’s joyous heroine exclaims.

Hearts of Mine opens with a similar acoustic atmosphere and then goes deeper into melancholy, swaying honkytonk. Then Platt flips the script again with the upbeat I’ll Be Loving, a dead ringer for Dylan’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere, with a delicious dobro/mando duel on the way out.

“I’ve got the mind of a junkie and you’ve got the heart of a child,” Platt muses on Lucky, a sobering but hopeful and propulsively crescendoing anthem. The final cut is the plaintive, guilt-stricken breakup ballad A Life For You. Fans of strong, insightful songwriting from Lucinda Williams, to vintage Springsteen, to James McMurtry will love this album – it’s more than a stealth contender for one of the best of 2015.