Who? – The Band Of Heathens, based in Austin. Texas. They are composed of Ed Jurdi (Guitar. Keys, Vocals), Gordy Quist (Guitar, Vocals), Trevor Nealon (Keys, Vocals), Richard Milsap (Drums, Vocals), Scott Davis (Bass, Vocals)
Album Release Date/Producer? – January 13th, 2017 / Jim Vollentine
Genre? – Americana, Rock, Country
Opinion On The Artist’s Work Overall Up To This Point? – Well, after listening to their previous albums prior to this release, I can say that they’re probably a band that I respect more than I actually like. Don’t get me wrong, I liked what I heard mostly, but they’ve always seemed like an extremely experimental band, enough to the point where the material just didn’t really click with me. Their 2008 self-titled release was probably my favorite for being a little more rough and gritty than their other work. However, I had heard a lot of critical acclaim surrounding this album from friends in the blogosphere, so I decided, “hey, let’s give this a shot”.
Is There Any Sort Of Event Surrounding The Making Of This Album? – I’ve seen the band posting the definition of the word, “duende” a lot. The word itself means, “a quality of passion and inspiration”, so naturally it probably means how they want to describe their latest album of the same name. Other than that, no not to the best of my knowledge.
What Are The Low Points / Nitpicks Of The Project? – It’s probably best to start here given what I just said. Sonically, the band is pulling from many different genres and even eras such as classic rock, Folk, Americana, Country, and even Soul for their latest album. Now, let me stress, I do like it when bands experiment or try out other sounds, and one of my biggest criticisms for the few albums that I’ve heard this year is that they run together pretty quickly. However, I won’t quite say the band’s melting pot of sound always works to their favor.
I’ve seen the song “Sugar Queen” described as a lot of things, but the number one comparison I see is to the Band with a mixture of honky-tonk and blues. It’s pretty accurate I suppose, but I still can’t help but feel this song highlights something that I don’t care much for on this album – the tonal choices. The song itself describes a woman who’s well, quite frankly wild and out of control, and yet the sound itself doesn’t really match that rougher description. We’ll get to the writing in a moment, but still, the song is playing things a little too smooth, polished, and fun to really stick out. Again, it’s not bad it just feels misshaped.
Of course, that also extends to a song such as “Keys To The Kingdom” with its talk of following dreams and also having them crushed as well. You’d think a message such as this would be delivered with a certain sort of melancholy, but instead we just get another very low-key, smooth sounding track, one that really doesn’t compliment the vocalist if I’m being honest.
Now, when it comes to the writing on this track, you could argue that the lyrics are the least essential element of this entire project. Heck, their main focus is on their instrumentation and production of all things, and there is a room for that type of band. However, considering they’re pulling from all of these different genres to create this album, I also would say there’s a lack of identity into what makes a Band Of Heathens song a true Band Of Heathens song. Now, that’s not necessarily a problem, but when the instrumentation and production isn’t doing enough to really push this band over the edge, the lyrics do matter. Now, I will stress that they aren’t bad so much as basic – framing songs around very simple ideas in order to focus more on say, the melody or instrumentation. There are a few moments where it works well, however there are also songs that just feel a little too underwritten, or not developed as they could be such as “Sugar Queen”, or “Deep Is Love”, one of those “life on the road” songs that hammers on the point long before the song is done.
What Are The High Points / Praiseworthy Elements Of The Project? – Now, if the band is going to try all of these different sounds, surely it works sometimes right? Well actually, yes. There are moments where the band truly hones in on their strengths to craft some well put together songs that I wish they’d expand upon in the future. Take the opener, “All I’m Asking” for instance, where the narrator acknowledges that yes, he has messed up a lot, but he has changed as well and all he wants is just another chance. Yeah, it’s a little broadly sketched, but there’s a sense of urgency to the vocals here that make this work, and the string section during the bridge sound almost Celtic in nature, something that certainly wins me over. Plus when you have the fuzzy bass line with a great melody supporting it, you get a damn great song.
Heck, even though I criticized “Deep Is Love”, I’m not going to deny it’s got a killer groove to it, and it’s one of the few places on the album where the band harmonize really well. Even though I’m not extremely wild about a song like “Trouble Came Early” for feeling a little overproduced, I’m not going to deny that it’s a pretty fun straight-forward country-rock number that’s easy to like.
Of course, there is one song here that really connected with me on this album, and that’s “Cracking The Code”. With some softer percussion and more intimate tone overall coupled with the piano, it’s a great song that describes the human dependence on the online world nowadays. We’re making a ton of friends online through social media sure, but we don’t know these people, and it’s not the same as meeting them face to face. There’s also a mention of how everyone is cooler or better when they’re sitting behind a keyboard rather than face to face with someone. It could be aimed at music critics I suppose.
However, where other songs in this vein tend to get outright pissy or point fingers, this song is framed more in a gloomier sense, saying we’re all trapped in this world, and how again, all of us are guilty in some way. Again, it’s a damn great track, and I wish we could get more thought provoking tracks from this band.
Closing Thoughts? – So look, overall I really wanted to like this project. Heck, I think these guys are talented, and I can see why this connects with a lot of people. It’s pretty straight forward and easy to enjoy. I just wish it went beyond that more than a couple times on this album. Again, I’ll acknowledge that a lot of it comes down to this band just not being for me, especially on the song, “Daddy Longlegs”, which I just didn’t care for at all. It’s not one of their best projects, but it’s got some good songs on it, and while I do think some of it could have been better, there’s also some stuff to enjoy here as well, so as always, take my opinion as you will.
Who Might Enjoy This Album – Fans of the band, as well as fans of a melting pot of genres such as Rock, Americana, Country, and Soul.
Any Albums That This Reminds You Of? – Honestly it’s a little retro in style, so I can’t think of anything recent that this sounds like, but it’s definitely somewhat of a throwback album.
The Best Track(s)? – Definitely “Cracking The Code”, as well as “All I’m Asking”, and “Deep Is Love”
The Worst Track(s)? – Probably “Daddy Longlegs”. It’s not bad necessarily, but the more soulful direction coupled with the vocals and lyrical content just didn’t do much for me.
For me (again, for ME), it’s a decent…