A British rock giant and an acclaimed and respected member of New York's acting community walk into a recording studio ... and produce one of 2017's strongest and most compelling albums.
This odd couple consists of multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald, a founding member of both King Crimson and Foreigner, and guitarist and lead vocalist Ted Zurkowski, co-founder of New York's celebrated Shakespeare ensemble, Frog & Peach, and a long-time member of the world-famous Actors Studio. Together, this unlikely new songwriting team conjured the album Bad Old World under the banner of their quartet, HONEY WEST.
Bad Old World is filled with memorable melodies and clever and sophisticated lyrics served on a bed of guitar-driven rock 'n' roll played by top-shelf musicians, including drummer Steve Holley, whose credits include Paul McCartney & Wings and many others, and McDonald's son, Maxwell McDonald, on bass. The album also boasts a guest appearance by Graham Maby (Joe Jackson, They Might Be Giants) on bass ("Brand New Car," "California," "A Girl Called Life"). While it's a modern sound stamped by Ian McDonald's world-class musicianship and production, it also bears an instant familiarity, thanks to a sonic blueprint recalling such Brit-rock titans as The Move and Mott the Hoople.
Representative of the band's distinct sound is Bad Old World's self-deprecating first single, "Dementia," a four-on-the-floor rave-up that melds a driving beat and rampaging guitars with McDonald's signature baritone sax and Zurkowski's unique brand of lyrical mischief.
With a cheeky nod to McDonald's British roots, there also is a helping of sly humor that permeates HONEY WEST: Witness the new video containing the hard-charging "Generationless Man," which pays homage to both the visual style of the Beatles' influential film A Hard Day's Night, and the wackiness of fellow countryman Benny Hill.
As is usually the case in artistic collaborations, the pairing of McDonald and Zurkowski was the result of fate — and, in this case, proximity as well.
"We literally lived across the street from one another in Manhattan," McDonald explains. "I would notice Ted and his wife as they would come and go, walking their dog and whatnot. We ended up speaking and I discovered Ted was in a band."
"We simply plugged in, and immediately clicked," adds Zurkowski, picking up the story. "We had a ‘two-guitar thing' right from the get-go. That very rarely happens. We started right in writing songs."
Asked why it took decades to find himself in a guitar-propelled band, McDonald reckons: "I guess I had never met the right writing partner before. It took a while to meet somebody who wrote great lyrics. There aren't that many great lyric writers who can sing and play guitar as well. When Ted and I got together, I was really pleased to be able to do that."
HONEY WEST — named in honor and celebration of the proto-feminist 1960s cult TV spy series starring the ever-alluring Anne Francis — was already up and running when the two came together. For McDonald, discovering the scope and breadth of Zurkowski's talents was the catalyst for wanting to create a musical partnership.
"Ted's lyrics are very smart," says McDonald. "I like smart lyrics, I like smart music. The songs revolve around a more-or-less complete lyric. That's slightly unusual for me, or for the way things are usually done. This has ended up being a really good partnership."
As for Ted's transition from Shakespearean actor to rock 'n' roll front man, he couldn't be happier.
"Now," he notes, "I don't lose five pounds every show playing Hamlet."