BAND OF HEATHENS
Album review: "Top Hat Crown & the Clapmaster's Son"
There's a certain kind of group that debuts with a live album: one that's certain of its onstage synergy and crowd-pleasing power. That goes double for the Band of Heathens, which actually released two concert recordings before its first studio project. "Top Hat Crown & the Clapmaster's Son" is the Texas quintet's third studio outing, but the band still prefers a live sound. Digital enhancements don't interest the Heathens, whose inspirations all date to the pre-CD era.
Formed by three singer-songwriters who met while sharing bills at an Austin club, the group emulates those early-'70s rockers who flirted with country music. With their acoustic guitars and sweetly ragged harmonies, tunes such as "Gris Gris Satchel" recall "American Beauty"-era Grateful Dead. But this album also demonstrates the Heathens' growing taste for soul and funk, which suits Ed Jurdi's old-school growl.
Jurdi and the other principal songwriters, Colin Brooks and Gordy Quist, acknowledge their stylistic debts playfully. "Should Have Known" borrows its boogie from T. Rex's "Bang a Gong (Get it On)," and the final part of "I Ain't Running" turns into War's "Spill the Wine." If such moments are smile-inducing when heard on headphones, they must draw whoops and hollers when performed live.
--Mark Jenkins, Aug. 5, 2011