Released in 2014 by Victory Records, “Rev” is the eleventh album from Dallas, Texas-based Reverend Horton Heat. The trio will be hitting Neighborhood Theatre this Thursday, January 28th to bring their psychobilly sound to the Queen City.
The album wakes you up like an alarm clock with energetic surf guitar and drums that could tire out the North Korean army in “Victory Lap.” Jim Heath – the Reverend himself – fingers his guitar with the expertise of an addict with a lighter, and Jimbo Wallace keeps the tractor trailer of sound from veering out of lane. The album seamlessly shifts into “Smell of Gasoline,” a song of reminiscences and rhythm. “Never Gonna Stop It” makes me feel like I could stay up past ten on weeknights. The “it” refers to rock and roll, of course, and these guys know what it’s about. Surfer drums initiate “Zombie Dumb,” which moves forward with anything but the unsteady gait of the undead. Raucous melodic electric guitar takes turns with playfully spooky vocals, and once again, it’s all tied together with Jimbo on the bass.
“Schizoid” comes in forcefully, and continues strong, with the Reverend’s vocals bemoaning his diagnosis of said title. He does, however, seem to find solace in having, at long last, an explanation for his shortcomings. The song ends just as powerfully as it began, just in time for “Spooky Boots” to rock and roll through your tympanic canals. A song of lost love and Santa Fe hotels, “Spooky Boots” is a paean of the foolish optimism we all have for those things we have loved and lost. It is a song anyone with a working tricuspid valve can relate to. The Reverend’s guitar prays, weeps, dances, and repeats in a celebration of sundry matters of the heart.
“Scenery Going By” offers quite a demonstration of the Reverend’s vocal gymnastics. With just his vocal folds and some pulmonary force, he creates the vignette of a train blasting through country accompanied by a good measure of existential rumination. I could almost feel the hot wind in my face. What’s even more incredible than the Reverend’s facility in artfully shifting vocal registers is that he is able to sing like he sings while he playing like he plays. Now that’s multitasking. A guitar instrumental slowly cuts through the spirals of smoke the first verses blew into your head, only to chug ahead full bore into a final chorus. There is indeed “no time to stop / the scenery going by.” We are all on a cosmic train ride. How we enjoy the journey is up to us. Before things get too deep, the Reverend pulls our gaze away from our navels into the swinging “My Hat,” a song about getting screwed – in the that-didn’t-turn-out-like-I-wanted-it-to kind of way – day in and day out. Before it can turn into something sad and dreary, it’s over, at a quick and danceable two minutes and change. “Let Me Teach You How To Eat” is the next song on the album. It is the kind of song that my father would listen to, pulling out lyrics à propos shortly after serving me tuna noodle surprise (the surprise was usually that it wasn’t good). The song is full of fun, countless double entendres, and the crucial message to those womenfolk embroiled in the futile chase to attain a photo-shopped body via self-deprivation of gastronomic enlightenment. The song even has a visually stunning video, featuring the band doing their thing, and pinup models doing their thing – with steak (among other comestibles). Suddenly, I’m craving pot roast.
A rocking guitar is joined by antsy drums in “Mad Mad Heart.” The Reverend pours his heart out on this track, singing of his desperation, pain, and hopes of finding love. I must admit, at this point, I’m feeling charmed. (But I suppose the song about the meat broke the ice.) With “Longest Gonest Man” the album drawls into a Johnny Cash-esque twang that could get any penitentiary to get down. I can feel the cilia in my inner ear playing twister as Jimbo slaps at the bass and the Reverend stretches his fingers and plays with his voice. In at just under three minutes, this song left me panting out of breath, but wanting more. Slightly slower, “Hardscrabble Woman” introduces us to an esteemed character that only the Reverend Horton Heat would know. This is the sort of woman who “doesn’t buy bullets likes to pack her own load,” the sort of dame who’s “got a forty-five and a custom pool cue,” the sort of lass who gets arrested for defending herself from the men who dare to assault her. I’d like to meet her. Part of me would like to be her. I bet she eats a lot of meat. The instrumental (also meaty) offers that unadulterated guitar euphony that makes me weak in the knees. I’d better wear sensible shoes to Thursday’s show or I’ll fall down. For a song with such a dainty name, “Chasing Rainbows” is pure power with lyrics packed with gritty, brutal truth. This is the sort of song that could be played at a high school graduation ceremony, but The Man probably wouldn’t allow it. The Reverend’s voice is pleasant like a fluffernutter made with chunky peanut butter. Or maybe chop suey made with slightly under cooked noodles. It’s good, with an unexpected crunch. I would not turn down a second helping.
When the album ended, I felt as though I’d been spit out by a tornado, and I suppose I was, in a way. The Reverend Horton Heat makes a fine substitute for a double latte, with lyrics as refreshingly real as whole milk after a week of skim. This triumphant trio of psychobilly deities has the energy of the immortal, the sound of collective laughter, and the beat of a cargo train hauling in the middle of the night. All of that combines for a great record, and what is sure to be an even greater show. Even if you can’t make it Thursday, be sure to add the Reverend Horton Heat to your Music Library, and to the rest of you: I can’t wait to see you there!
Reverend Horton Heat on Spotify