The Band of Heathens – s/t

What was Alt. Country? Lyle Lovett, right? That song about riding a pony on a boat. Nashville instrumentation given an eccentric new wave twist that harked back to the tailfin gloss of the mid-50s. Two decades on and things are altogether more laidback, even bluesy, in the areas where the country mainstream blurs into more rootsy styles, and a prime example of a band making both credible and quality music that bridges more than one genre is this Austin 5 piece.

The album cover features a “‘Heathens” petrol pump and this is, I’m supposing, to alert us to the fact that these particular Texans are oilmen, out drilling all week and strapping guitars on at the weekends. There is a definite electro-acoustic feel to the eleven tracks on display here, and the entire album has an equally definite “feet up on the porch” attitude, nothing too vexing or troublesome’s going to upset the Band Of Heathens barbeque this or any weekend. The sound is, initially at least, straight ahead no frills country folk, with the emphasis falling on the folk side, and I’m certain their live shows are faithfully recreated here. The opening chords of first track “Don’t Call On Me” neatly set the tone for much of what follows; the acoustic chords carry most of the tune while everyone else takes things on the easy side. A warm enough introduction to what develops into some quite lively and inventive guitar play though. “Jackson Station” features some atmospheric mandolin and showcases the groups rhythmic style, the song isn’t too far removed from a more traditional polka.

As the album develops though, the electrics start to take the foreground. “Unsleeping Eye” has a gritty blues intro that shows the group moving into rockabilly styles of the kind previously handled by such performers as Tav Falco, “Hallelujah” delves into actual psychedelia, and ballad “40 Days” is a proper tip of the hat to the aforementioned Mr Lovett, and professionals that they are, each of these tracks are identifiably the work of The Band Of Heathens, not merely tributes to other styles of musicianship.

Now, I need to admit that I knotted my brows a bit deciding how best to describe the range of styles the Band Of Heathens cover here – and the inner sleeve contains one of the lengthiest thank you lists
I’ve seen recently – but I doubt the band themselves would concern themselves too much with pigeonholing everything they do into neatly labelled compartments: too much skill is at work on this album to let stylistic pedantry get in the way of the actual music.