Album Review: Reverend Horton Heat – Whole New Life

Reverend Horton Heat have returned after their stellar 2014 album, REV. REV was a beefy, raucous rumble of a record, boasting slick, psychobilly maneuvers and sweat-drenched solos.

On Whole New Life, Jim Heath (guitars/vocals) and Jimbo Wallace (stand-up bass) reach back to early rock ‘n’ roll to find rebirth with two new members: Texas jazz drummer RJ Contreras and pianist Matt Jordan, who are synchronizing seamlessly with the legendary foundation. This could be seen as a return to roots or reveling in the relaxing palms of retirement.

Reverend Horton Heat boasts a litany of heated rockabilly records which started in 1990, on SubPop, no less. Which is less curious than their slot on Victory Records (unless you are old enough to recall Hi-Fi and The Roadburners).

The band, at their ‘alternative crest,’ while never swaying from their sound, spanned two LPs on Interscope (alongside Primus, Helmet, NIN, Marilyn Manson, Dre, Eminem, 2Pac, Tom Jones, but also Rocket From The Crypt); bounced from Artemis (Murphys Law, Dope, Kittie, Warren Zevon, Susan Tedeschi, Steve Earle, and Kurupt), and Time Bomb (Social D, Mike Ness solo, The Aquabats!, and The Vandals, etc); and subsequently landed on, Yep-Roc (Paul Weller, Neko Case, and Los Straitjackets) for three albums from 2004 – 2009.

So, when 2014 saw RHH land on Victory amid anime-haircut-topped deathcore kids, The Reverend just went out and did what they do. Toured. And played their asses off. The first tour off REV’s release saw RHH take out Nekromantix. RHH continue to blast through 200+ shows each year. This past summer saw them play smaller venues with a more intimate (and established 2+ hour!) set. The band has proven to be comfortable on any labeldespite the similarities or contrast to surrounding label mates.  

Reverend Horton Heat establishes the rootsy endeavor out of the rodeo gate with “A Whole New Life” and “Hog Tyin’ Woman.” The tunes are Rev at his most playful with lyrics and backed by country plucking fun in an uproar.  These two tracks manifest visions of more tractors than Galaxy 500 or anything with Suicide Doors.

But on track three, “I Hate to See You Cry,” the music becomes much more emotional, smooth, and saturated with sentiment. Rev matches the tone with sincere lyrics (centered on “Don’t ever give up hope”) painting a vivid picture, not just of a lady he loves, but her unstable, unfair home life. It’s a touching and powerful ballad from the man who gave us “Cowboy Love” and “Big Red Rocket of Love.”

“Got it in my Pocket” is quick and fun, a nice ditty to lend a respite. But RHH shine when they indulge in reverb which echoes on the deeper, darker “Don’t Let Go of Me.” This is another stand-out track with the culled guitar lines and dominant bass. It’s bluesy and smoky and demands attention with atmosphere instead of speed. This leads the listener into the mesmerizing instrumental “Rise Before the Fall.” Utilizing similar elements of the prior track, a moody climate is amped up in tension to be relieved by climaxes spurting smoking solos. Interplay between the instruments showcase the bands’ talents and enjoyment. Stellar stuff here. Head down, volume up, mouth shut.

Next up is the Jerry Lee Lewis-soaked jump and boogie on “Tchoupitoulas Street” where The Rev’s Gretsch 6120 blips and plucks with confident seduction. The vibe is like a samba-goes-Hawaiian dance feel. “Sunset through the Powerlines” is another simple and fun, chunky rock song, with a Roy Orbison-inspired meandering up and down the fretboard. The song is an introspective tune showing the Reverend is not just spinning tales about being kicked down by life and finding the nearest bar.

Again though, the album jumps levels when RHH delve into the gritty, dirty romp of “Wonky” (even with the silly word anchoring the chorus).  It’s ripe with punch and big hooks encompassed in a sultry tone. This track’s splendor is the play between Heath and Jordan’s piano.

Reverend Horton Heat close out with “Perfect” and a cover of “Viva Las Vegas” (of course…). “Perfect” is an upbeat stomper maintaining the gritty tone. “Perfect” is rock ‘n’ roll at its finest displaying the majesty of Wallace’s slapping and Rev’s ripsaw leads and embracing the vivacious new energy of Jordan and Contreras.

I hope these four keep touring and stick together for years. Whether channeling Screamin’ Jay Hawkins or SUN Studios or the cool senses of REVORGANDRUM, RHH have gone back to the infant years of rhythm ‘n’ blues. The blend and variety of Whole New Life fits securely with LITF, PITR, Martini Time, or Lucky 7.  RHH dominate as they prove their comfortability in their place: lauded by legends, respected by peers, adored by fans. This tractorain’t stopping. Simply reaping another fresh one from the field.

Purchase the album here.

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