(Yep Rock) (GUEST REVIEW BY JOHN BATTLES) Too cool for the Rev, now, are ya? I don't give a shit, I'm going to tell you why his latest release is probably his best any damn way. This is the closest he's come to the classic, stripped down RAB/RnR/C&W sound of yore, meaning back when the recently ordained Jim Heath was still a soundman, and sometime resident, at The Theatre Gallery in the Deep Ellum district of Dallas, while maintaining a Monday night residency at The Prophet Bar, which grew and grew. Some guy called John Battles was credited with originally calling him "The Reverend,” and Heath quickly built a new personna around himself, answering the musical question, "What might have happened if Jerry Lee had not been kicked out of Bible School for playing "My God is Real" in Boogie Woogie time?.” Now, Heath/The Rev has gone through a lot of changes since he debuted this thang at The Prophet Bar (then across the street from The Theatre Gallery) nearly 25 years ago, and are some of his albums definitely better than others? Without a doubt. Is this his finest effort since "Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em,” the genre-defying Frosh effort on a still-young Sub Pop Records, that still holds up very well today? Is pig pussy pork? Not only does it hearkens back more to the stripped down, roots-oriented sound of the late 80s, when the band were still schlubbing their way through Texas and Oklahoma (before finally deciding to break key cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago without benefit of a recording contract), but it brings back so much of the lyrical humor that made it's way into so much of Heath's early work, when he gradually eased most of the Sun Records and Johnny Burnette Trio material out of his setlist, as he was pulling great original songs out of his butt at an alarming rate (seriously, those very lines were on the cover of The Dallas Times Herald). In recent years, he's gone back and recorded several of these early numbers, and he's not about to stop, now, though, of course, you'd think they were new songs, given their freshness, and subtle arrangement changes, and, well, if you weren’t there, these songs will be new to you, anyway. That's not a slight on you or wherever you're from, Hoss, we've all missed out on something great in this lifetime. One thing that's never been missing, but is surely prominent, here, is the Reverend's razor-sharp wit. "Ain't No Saguaro in Texas" quickly dispels the myth that the ginormous Saguaro cacti are indigenous to Texas. Even the Legendary Stardust Cowboy knew better than to say that in his similar laundry list of prickly pears, " Cactus.” "Death Metal Guys" draws on the rather obvious differences between Rockabilly Guys, and, well, you guessed it. Best line of the whole set, "Jerry Lee Lewis shot his Bass player down, down to the ground with a .38 round. But Death Metal guys would have eaten his brains, and people call Jerry Lee Lewis insane!"
"Please Don't Take The Baby To The Liquor Store,” written by Bassist, Jimbo Wallace, almost reads like a Country Song from the Late 60s, like George Jones when he took a "Liquormission" from the sad songs to sing a great Novelty number, which, I can't stress enough, are not as easy to write and record as some people think. The late, great, Hank Thompson pointed out that it was an elusive, though not dead, art form in Country Music, back in The Nineties, when Country Music was practically a dead art form in Country Music. But just as hilarious, if not more so, is Jim Heath's "Beer Holder,” about, you guessed it, a guy who drinks so much beer, he can use his belly, or, possibly, his m'oobs, to hold his beer in place while he watches TV. "Aw, The Humanity" begins with a somber tone, until you realize he's comparing a lost love to The Hindenburg ("Aw...The Humanity"), Led Zeppelin and even Snoopy and The Red Baron. "River Ran Dry,” dating back to the earliest days at The Prophet Bar, back when you didn’t have to Swing dance, nor even Jitterbug, to Rockabilly. It's like a Status Quo Boogie with a Punk Rock tempo. A welcome return to the band's live set, it used to clock in at about one minute, thirty seconds, but they've since added a verse.
"Drinkin' and Smokin' Cigarettes,” one of the best early numbers, doesn’t undergo much in the way of changes, but falls in comfortably with the newer songs, and even kick-starts the album. This song always displayed Heath's guitar playing to the maximum effect, and, nearly 25 years later, that still rings true. In the last few years, his playing has improved, but not at the risk of foul wankery. Now, Jim probably wouldn’t be above having a drink with Steve Vai or Joe Satriani, but he knows a guitar solo can be a thing of beauty, without becoming one of excess. Likewise, Jimbo Wallace still mans that Standup Bass with the dexterity of an Archer, substituted telephone lines for catgut, and the rhythmic Alchemy derived from Rockabilly, Country, Blues, Jazz, Punk, and band pal and genre unto himself, Mr. Ian Kilmister....Lemmy, if you're nasty. Drummer Tim Alexander fell in right away when he joined the band several years ago (and, if Pete Frame ever made a family tree for The Reverend Horton Heat, he's have one Rev. Heat, two bass players (Wallace and his predecessor, Swingin' Jack Barton), and enough drummers to turn that family tree into a forest). He rates Cozy Powell and Ian Paice among his key influences. We're inclined to think of long, boring solos when we look back on that era, but drummers of their ilk understood the variables of merely keeping time and going in for the kill, and when one was necessary while the other could kill a whole song. He's a team player, he's one of the boys, and he's a keeper. They're sounding and feeling more like a band all the time, as they should, though it's easy to get in a rut, travelling the world over, sometimes not having as much time to work on new material as you might like, much less to spend time with your families. Perhaps that's why this is the first RHH album in five years. If it ain't worth doing it RIGHT, it ain't worth doing at all. A little reminder, unless you have kick-ass 20/20 vision, you may have difficulty spotting this at your local record store. The band name is printed in black on medium-dark blue, rendering it almost impossible to read in a CD rack.