Pop Culture Gadabout
Thursday, September 17, 2009
      ( 9/17/2009 07:25:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"ROCKABILLY GUYS MAY BE INSANE, BUT ROCKABILLY GUYS DON'T EAT BRAINS." In Laughin' and Cryin' with the Reverend Horton Heat (Yep Roc), the big emphasis is on the first apostrophized gerund. Primarily comprised of comic monologues sung from a "rural point of view," the Texas trio's latest release largely skips the harder rockin' moves that characterized earlier tracks like "400 Bucks" and "Wiggle Stick" in favor of energized Texas swing and rockabilly. If occasionally "Reverend" Jim Heath's jovial evocations of Texas livin' go for the too-easy target (e.g., the beer belly growing hubby of "Beer Holder" or the henpecked prole of "Just Let Me Hold My Paycheck"), the band's gleeful yee-haw playin' still carries the day.

And, let me add, there are plenty of genuinely funny moments on this disc: whether it's the Reverend hipping Hollywood to the fact that there "Ain't No Saguaro in Texas" (as this AZ res can tell you, that particular cactus is native to the Sonoran desert) to a sprightly Tex-Mex polka or mock sermonizing that "God Doesn't Work in Vegas" with a rockabilly hiccup calculated to make us think of the King, the jokes generally work. The only total dud on the disc is the ploddingly mawkish ballad, "Aw, the Humanity," wherein an over-emotive Heath stretches his metaphorical comparison of a busted romance to the Hindenberg disaster to the snapping point. Bet that song gets the boozed-up paying attention when it's played live in the clubs, though.

A couple of tracks overplay to yahoo sensitivities -- "Rural Point of View" knocks down a bunch of straw city folk for their gun-controllin', hybrid drivin' ways, while the barnstormin' "Death Metal Guys" contrasts rockabilly cats with death metal poseurs -- but only the latter produces any real chuckles. Better are Heath's comic laments, the country boogie "Crazy Ex-Boyfriend" and "Please Don't Take That Baby to the Liquor Store," which mine their material in comically convincing fashion. Elsewhere, the boys tackle Ernest Tubb's engagingly campy paean to the Lone Star State (note drummer Paul Simmons' shout-out to his home state of Tennessee), cover a swell Chet Atkins instrumental and assay an instrumental tribute to Santo and Johnny's "Sleepwalk." The last two may not contain any jokes, but -- as with their earlier instrumental work (think "Big Sky") -- agreeably display the band's rock solid sonic proficiency.

Heath does slip a purely serious lyrical track onto the set (gotta get some of that Cryin' in somewhere), though: the hard-luck lament "River Run Dry," which happily conjures up memories of cow-punkers like Jason and the Scorchers. While the disc's more countrified sound as a whole may prove disappointing to fans who favor their kick-ass side, "River" demonstrates the guys have still got in it in 'em to keep on a-laughin' and a-cryin' through the rock 'n' roll wreckage.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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