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Review Mon Jun 15 2009

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


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.

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  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

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