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May 1 - 8, 1998

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Sweet Honey

Huck's perseverance pays off

by John O'Neill

[Huck] The inside of Vincent's is drab, even though both the doors to the street and the back patio are open to allow in what little light the sky affords, but there can be no doubting at this point that the clouds will stay -- it's officially a crummy day. Scott Ricciuti, Huck's guitarist frontman and chief songwriter, sits quietly in his chair and strokes the hair on his chin. Bassist Dave Robinson has excused himself to take a leak and order up another round of beer as Ricciuti carefully, after much reflection, attempts to answer the question he'd previously sidestepped: why Huck's new CD, Honeywagon, continually deals with the theme of redemption and a chance at starting over again.

"There were a lot of things going on when I wrote this album: things about me, all my stuff, the band situation, things left over from getting divorced . . . about drinking too much," he says with a wry smile and waving gesture toward his glass. "It's all about me and things I don't like about me, about mixing them up and changing them around."

Since first appearing on the local scene as a member of Childhood in the mid-'80s, Ricciuti has had his share of disappointment and unfulfilled dreams. From winning the 1987 WBCN Rock & Roll Rumble with Childhood, only to be slagged the very next day in the papers by almost all the Boston music critics, to losing out in the finals of the 1995 WBRU Rock Hunt, which later turned out to be rigged, to Huck's inability to maintain a solid line-up over the past two years, he has continued to pay his dues.

With the release of Huck's sophomore effort, Honeywagon (Orcaphat), Ricciuti's 15 years of toil have seemingly paid off in the form of an album that not only re-establishes the band as one of the region's best acts, but one in which Ricciuti finally delivers the great pop album that until now eluded him. With Childhood, the songs suffered from an overwrought pretense, à la U2-style anthems and the first Huck album, My Boy Joe, while sneaking glimpses of his true voice, ultimately suffered from a strong case of the Cobains. All this changes with Honeywagon, where Ricciuti finally steps out from the shadow of his influences to author an album of indelible pop music that stands firmly on its own merit.

"I'm at this point in my life where I'm writing what's in my head," he elaborates. "When I was 23, I wanted to be successful and write a popular song. Now I write 'cause I enjoy it; it's what I want to do. I tried writing prose, but I'm too lazy and a pop song is the next best thing."

Engineered and produced by local guru Roger Lavallee, Honeywagon flexes the pop muscle that was only hinted at with My Boy Joe as Huck unhitch themselves from the alterna-bandwagon and head for a more tuneful pasture. Smoothed out, but still full-blare, Honeywagon offers a more poised, mature sound. Ricciuti wraps his frayed vocals around stories of self-doubt, self-examination, and, occasionally, self-loathing. And while these are all common topics in rock music, what sets Huck apart from their contemporaries is the willingness to stare unflinchingly into the mirror for the answers to the angst. More than a collection of songs, Honeywagon is a definitive coming-of-age piece for the band; for Ricciuti, it's a release that establishes him as a formidable pop songwriter.

"The funny thing is when I joined Huck, Scott didn't want to release the album," says Robinson, who played with Black Rose Garden before signing up for bass duty, after Honeywagon's studio tracks were completed. (Founding drummer Dan Lucas rounds out the trio.) "I couldn't believe it, it was a great album.

"We couldn't decide if it was brilliant or it sucked," says Ricciuti. "I really hated it for a while, but now it's okay. I like it."

Things finally appear to be going Huck's way. Robinson has fit into the mix like a long-lost brother, Orcaphat Records has the band inked to a three-album deal and has aggressively pushed the current release. At least one major label and a publishing house have shown solid interest in the group. Could it be that success is ready to shake hands with Ricciuti after all this time?

"My expectations are so low," he says as the gray afternoon begins to give way to dusk. "If things take off that's great. With Childhood, I was a younger kid who stood there, a guy who wanted to be a rock star instead of a guy who wanted to write songs.

"We still want to believe we're in the game. That may be sad that we still believe, but I'm not gonna give up."

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