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Review Mon Jun 15 2009

Album Review: Ha Ha Tonka's Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South

hahatonka-album

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Ha Ha Tonka, the foot stompin' Americana indie rock band from Springfield, Missouri. They're Bloodshot Records debut album, Buckle in the Bible Belt, was one of the most earnest, soulful, and rollicking tours through rock music that I've heard in a long time. We sat down a few months ago and chatted with lead singer Brian Roberts about their latest album, Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South, which is out tomorrow on Bloodshot Records.

The album opens with the thumping hollow sounds of a gritty guitar backing Roberts gruff yet rich and smooth vocals. It's a simplistic and refreshing opener that is the musical equivalent of waking up as the sun rises and blinking your eyes as the morning light pours through the window. The album surges forward with "Hold My Feet To the Fire," showcasing the honky-tonk infused rock music and rich vocal harmonies that Ha Ha Tonka has mastered beautifully.

As you move forward, the album dives into a darker tone, both in music and lyrics, a stark contrast to the mostly high-energy late night party atmosphere that dominated Buckle in the Bible Belt. Not surprising, since according to Bloodshot the album has a loose basis around the 1907 novel The Shepherd of the Hills, an Ozark tale of a man who leaves the city for the hills, where he slowly learns to find peace with losses he's experienced and those yet to come. In the namesake song "What Shepherds of These Hills?!" the band delves deep into the sorrow and pain of American history, creating an eerie ghost ballad complete with the sounds of chain gangs, pick axes and shovels breaking into the ground, and the sad moans of the overworked and underpaid if paid at all. The searing anguish and feelings of tiresome despair tinge a multitude of tracks on Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South, whether Roberts is singing about social issues or lovesick blues, driving home the fact the band loves to weave personal and society injustices into the art of modern storytelling.

Although Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South as a whole is more mature in lyrics and musically more diverse and rich than their debut, Ha Ha Tonka knows their audience loves a fast tempo rock song that will make everyone dance so hard the floor shakes. The first single, "Walking on the Devil's Backbone," serves up a concoction of southern-fried rock 'n' roll with a hint of blues and soul and tales of impending debauchery with lines like "tonight we just don't care, throw caution to the wind we dare." My main fear was the deeper and down tempo tracks would slow the band down in concert, but the album balances itself with a mix of livelier tracks, and the darker songs take on a fierce and bright feel in a live setting. The fear that the band would abandon their relentless pursuit to make everyone at their concert loosen up and dance was put to ease, as their two albums blend perfectly to create a solid body of work that is introspective, visceral, and above all else, fun.

Make sure to pick up Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South when it comes out tomorrow. The band has a sold out album release party tonight at Schubas, but try your luck on Craigslist or stopping by early on and seeing if they release anymore tickets. Hopefully you've already gotten your tickets, and if so, wear your dancing shoes and I'll see you there.

 
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Tracy / June 16, 2009 11:33 AM

I was at their Schubas show and I LOVED it! One of my favorite shows to-date. The music and energy was so impressive - I highly recommend Ha Ha Tonka to any music lover.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

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