November 26, 2018 Reverend Horton Heat – Whole New Life (Album Review)
He’s been on fire for a long time and Jim Heath is showing absolutely no signs of stopping! To keep that fire stoked and burning, the Reverend Horton Heat deliver the brand-new Whole New Life on November 30, 2018, via Victory Records.
It has not been a bad ‘little’ career for Dallas, Texas’ Reverend Horton Heat, who got their start in 1986 as the musical guise of Band Leader, Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist Jim Heath. Throughout the past three decades and eleven albums, Heath and his troops have been honored to call some of music’s most elite their fans, including the late, beloved legends Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Additionally, the band has recorded with another sadly missed legend, Lemmy Kilmister; toured with the likes of Soundgarden, ZZ Top, The Cramps, Social Distortion, White Zombie, and the Sex Pistols (a young Lydon was connected to Jim’s original 1985 demo); and gladly gifted that tour opportunity back to several young artists, including Kyuss, Hank III, and Marilyn Manson. Never a band to rest on their laurels, Heath and co. maintain a heavy touring schedule, performing nearly 200 shows annually, including their trademark end-of-year jamboree, Horton’s Holiday Hayride.
For the band’s twelfth offering, Heath and long-time Slap-Bassist Jimbo Wallace are joined by two new recruits: Arjuna “RJ” Contreras on drums and Pianist Matt Jordan. On the 11-song collection, the quartet maintain their signature Psychobilly sound, blending ‘50s Rockabilly, Punk, Country, Surf, and beyond. Topically, they go for perhaps their most positive material to-date. Of the album, Heath explains: “It focuses heavily on Rock-n-Roll but there is a human interest parallel – songs about growing up poor, vices, marriage, having children and walking the rapturous streets of America.” Lest you worry that the Rev is growing soft and looking toward retirement, fear not! “I’m afraid I’m on the Willie Nelson retirement program, which means I’ll never retire,” he promises.
With the band poised for a new chapter, they offer fans a dancin’ good time on album opener and namesake, “Whole New Life.” A celebration of the simple goodness of coming up in the world while appreciating where you came from, the track opens up an album that is full of smiles and infectious jams – an amalgamation of joyous sounds that create something entirely upbeat. This is solidified with the seductive stomp of “Hog Tyin’ Woman,” a glance at being lassoed in by the wiles of one itsy bitsy lady. The track sees Wallace slapping the hell out of his bass to anchor the beat as Heath’s guitar work climbs feverishly above and around the entire production.
They bounce back up to a steady gallop on the insightful storytelling of “Hate to See You Cry,” where the passage of time can be a downer, but Heath implores his listeners to hold onto their dreams and never give up hope. Lest you fear that Reverend Horton Heat are growing too serious, they go for pure fun on the fast-paced, surf-y swing of “Got It in My Pocket,” an engaging (pun intended) little bop that proposes happiness – presumably to that previously mentioned hog tyin’ woman.
For “Don’t Let Go of Me,” they slow the pace down and dip into deeper tones for a reverb-heavy jam session. Here, a meandering plea in the name of love highlights the band’s musical talents. Similarly, the instrumental journey that is “Ride Before the Fall,” much like its predecessor, displays the band’s exceptional talents beautifully. Together, the band tell a story without words, painting a stellar, cinematic landscape.
Appropriately, there’s a spicy funk to “Tchoupitoulas Street” – named for the infamous New Orleans locale – which is led by some superb piano work from Jordan. Here, you can picture sashaying down the street as the sunshine glitters on the pavement outside Tipitina’s. Happily, that warmth continues into “Sunrise Through the Power Lines,” a look at how the grass might always seem greener, but we must learn to appreciate what we have instead of perpetually lamenting perceived losses.
“Wonky” goes crazy for the hip-shaking and twisting with a bubbly, frenetically upbeat confession that it’s perfectly okay to be slightly off-kilter – or a little ‘in the drink.’ Perhaps because of this over-indulgence, there’s no build into “Perfect,” it simply explodes immediately into Heath confessing with a smile that he’s the perfect guy for his significant other. Ultimately, to close out what was already a good time, the boys put a fabulously fun Psychobilly slap on Elvis Presley’s 1964 smash hit “Viva Las Vegas.” The sound is massive, the times they are good, and it will leave listeners with a stupid smile plastered across their faces.
Reverend Horton Heat are a band who has survived musical trends and the belly-flop of the music industry, defied the odds, and continued to record and deliver infectiously fun music for over three decades now. There’s something to be said for a group of musicians who can weather a storm with finesse, never varying their course and staying true to their original intentions. Whole New Life is a new chapter in their history, yes, one that sees Heath leaning toward more positive, upbeat subject matter. Clearly, it’s a good life – one that you will want to hear again and again and again. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give Reverend Horton Heat’s Whole New Life 4 of 5 stars.