THE FIRST SINGLE FROM Nashville troubadour Mackenzie Scott aka Torres’s self-titled debut album comes with this video tour diary footage from her September 2013 dates with Okkervil River in the US. For once, it’s a pretty positive picture of life on the road. Artful black and white footage of glittering American cities, landmarks, big skies and driving shots showing shiny-faced band members snoozing on the backseat and sharing jokes in the rearview mirror, while intimate, attentive crowds are reflected in a glitterball’s glare. There’s no hotel grot or peripatetic disorientation, just the communal warmth of touring musicians who might actually enjoy hanging out together and playing gigs.
“A little unspecific dread goes a long way, and Scott knows it.”
Which is all just as well, because the song itself is harrowing. Spiralling from a reverberating metallic guitar, Honey gives voice to some truly agonised internal dialogue. “This cannot happen again / Twice a year is too much,” Scott begins, sounding resolved enough for a 22-year-old confronted by love’s vicissitudes, but by the devastating bridge you wonder just how hard such wisdom was won: “Honey, while you were ashing in your coffee / I was thinking about telling you what you done to me.”
The guitar chords build and build, ratcheting up the tension, underpinned by sparse drums, while Scott’s voice – not unlike Sharon Van Etten in full hair-raising confessional mode – contorts from a whisper to a pained yowl as she tries convincing herself that “Everything hurts but it's fine / It's fine / It happens all the time”.
Scott's raw vocal veracity lends the song a real emotional weight while sparing the listener any actual gory details. The song's goose-bump inducing power comes instead from the mere suggestion of some deeply troubling force at work. As used so effectively in The Smiths’ wonderfully grievous Girl Afraid, a little unspecific dread goes a long way, and Mackenzie knows it. “What ghost crawled inside my guitar?” She wonders, “Don’t move, just stay right where you are.”
What exactly they’ve done, this person so heavy on her mind, we can't know, but Scott’s vocal coda – “Maybe some other time then I’ll come back again” – suggests she isn’t done with them yet. Uh oh.
Torres is out in the UK on November 11 and in the US now.