The Band of Heathens
The title to the 1978 Nick Lowe classic, Pure Pop for Now People, popped into my head while listening to Simple Things, The Band of Heathens’ eighth album of original material and 13th overall. If this isn’t pure popular music for everyone right now, I don’t know what is. Regardless that its songs are of a completely different ilk from the Lowe album, they’re surely potent, roots-rocking pieces of ear candy that ring with relevance. Where Lowe’s songs railed with quirky humor about dopey trends and corporate greed, The Band of Heathens presents current affairs without slant but with plenty of neat twists. Their sage words and bright entertainment help to navigate with grace a world turned sideways.
The Austin, Texans have been on an 18-year roll, their country-tinged rock ‘n’ roll consistently exploring. “Don’t Let the Darkness” signals right off that The Band of Heathens’ roll should become a NASCAR race to victory. Over a shimmering, funky-cool beat, the quintet—founding songwriter-guitarists Ed Jurdi (also a member of Trigger Hippy) and Gordy Quist, keyboardist Trevor Nealon, bassist Nick Jay, and drummer Clint Simmons—all sing of not getting lost seeking answers as to what went wrong, but rather, about getting “closer to a little further away” from it through sheer will and togetherness. Their message is as brilliant as their five-part harmonies. Next up in “Heartless Year,” they identify the issues through smart metaphors and use big jangling grappling hooks of music as a means of escape. But the refrain “The light I see at the end of the tunnel is either daylight creeping or a fast train coming” sure causes a pause.
The celebratory Stones-y crunch of the guitars and the heady blues harp in “I Got Time” underscore a tale of universal woe, but the mood changes dramatically for “Simple Things.” Concert-style piano, orchestration, and gorgeous, emotion-packed singing convey the purity of the title’s significance. That one could be classic Elton John in the 1970s, or one of Journey’s 80s power ballads. But the beauty also conveys a sense of the countrified roots of Gram Parsons and what he may have come up with had he lived beyond his short years. That latter notion certainly carries further into the twangy Southwestern bent of “Long Lost Son.”
Following the Sgt. Peppered “All That Remains,” the album closes with “Single in the Same Summer,” a spare rhyme full of profound nuance. Taken all together, Simple Things is a religious pop experience, indeed. Not so simple after all.
Tom Clarke for MAS