The consistent theme throughout the decade-long lifespan of The Band Of Heathens has been their flexibility in terms of both musical styles and personnel. Since forming in Austin, Texas in 2005, only two of the original members remain. Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist and the three other members of the current band have evolved from 6 others who have left to pursue separate ventures.
By TBOH standards, however, they have now enjoyed a remarkably settled period. The most recent new member Scott Davis is almost a veteran, having joined in 2013.
This is their fifth studio release and is the follow up to ‘Sunday Morning Record’ in 2013. ‘Duende’ isn’t a country album. The Band Of Heathens would not consider themselves a country band. The intention back in 2005 was to team up and pool resources to create order from a loose jam session. They have always had a sound that would verge from rock to blues, southern soul and occasionally country, and this remains the impression when assessing the merits of this 10-track album.
They are pigeonholed into the ‘Americana’ brand which has a definition that is ideally suited for The Band Of Heathens. Whilst there is a total inconsistency of musical styles, there is absolute consistency in relation to quality, and that is the mark that this album should be judged upon.
There are thin pickings for out and out country fans and from a purely selfish perspective, this is inevitably frustrating. When they ‘do country’ they do it very well. However, they do pretty much everything very well, whether it be the swagger displayed on out and out retro rocker ‘Trouble Came Early’ with its Stones vibe or the funk-influenced ‘Daddy Longlegs’, with the falsetto vocals that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Timberlake album.
So, what steals the show? For me it has to be ‘Last Minute Man’, a song that has huge energy and perfectly showcases the collective force that this band possesses. The mellow acoustic backing is merely a taste of the powerhouse that this song builds to. The peaks and troughs and that infectious melody is immensely enjoyable.
‘Cracking The Code’ is their take on the world’s obsession with social media and the effect that this has on personal relationships. “When the master serves the machine too long” is the message that is conveyed with a mid-tempo pulse and a country vibe. An unusual subject choice, and it’s certainly good to hear a variation on the clichéd formulaic topics that we often hear.
‘Road Dust Wheels’ deals with a subject that has become a hot topic in the USA – immigration and the emotional affects of family separation that is caused by relocation. “Left their families in their homes and their loved ones all alone and the memory of their love lingers on”. As it’s performed to a Tijuana rhythm we can only assume that this deals with the influx of Mexican immigrants across the southern borders, and serves as another example of The Band Of Heathens thinking a little outside the box in terms of subject matter.
They are not afraid to express their views. ‘The Green Grass Of California’ is certainly not a homage to the state’s vegetation. It promotes marijuana legalization and does so with a healthy portion of pedal steel guitar and vocal harmonies.
‘Duende’ is an album that requires familiarity before you appreciate the finer nuances. There is a hell of a lot to like. The opener ‘All I’m Asking’ is a toe-tapper that has a retro attraction featuring some stellar harmonies by Jurdi and Quist. They have also recreated the type of synthesised drum sounds heard on many of the 70s glam rock songs here in the UK.
‘Sugar Queen’ takes the listener in another direction completely with a blues/rock feel. There isn’t a course that is set on ‘Duende’. You literally have to go where the band takes you. ‘Duende’ is a Spanish term that loosely translates as a heightened sense of emotion, expression and authenticity. The album was aptly titled.
A hugely recommended addition and likely to be an early Americana best seller this year.