As far as important bands go, there are none more important to me than the Reverend Horton Heat. As my guitar playing became stagnant and my music appreciation dipped to an all-time low, nothing was exciting. Nothing was motivating. Nothing was fun anymore. Musically, I mean. I’m not saying I was a depressed teenager, I was just playing guitar way less and I pretty much stopped listening to music.
But then a boss at work asked if I like 50s music (I do) and have I ever heard the Reverend Horton Heat (I hadn’t). He put it on the store’s stereo and I was greeted with the strangest musical mix I’ve ever heard. You could tell that it was inspired by the very roots of rock and roll’s golden era, but took elements from all sorts of more modern music genres. In an interview, singer/guitarist Jim “Reverend Horton Heat” Heath said he knew a guy in art school who did every project with popsicle sticks. They were always incorporated into the projects somehow and was the artist’s signature. Heath went on to say that his song writing is meant to be diverse, to be original, and not repetitious, but there will always be a similar core to his music. His popsicle sticks, so to speak.
Right away my musical interest was piqued, my motivation to play guitar rekindled. Jim Heath saved my guitar-playing life and is responsible for me still playing and, ultimately, being here right now writing about it.
Lyrically, The Reverend Horton Heat talks about everything, but that first album I heard (Holy Roller, which is a greatest hits of sorts from his time on the Sub Pop record label) dealt with cars, drugs, alcohol, advocating the eating of meat, asking his girlfriend to masturbate for him, and an interracial cowboy homosexual relationship. Some of the songs were more subtle than others lyrically, but they were all enjoyable and humorous.
I was sold immediately, and began to devour his other offerings. Every album sounds different from the last, with more emphasis placed on this style, or this theme, or leaning more toward this genre, but they are all great and worth listening to.
Fans have their favorites for various reasons, as do the critics, but the band’s latest offering, REV, is a pleaser to every fan of the band, regardless of their favorite albums/eras. Imagine a greatest hits album from your favorite band that includes songs you’ve never heard before. THAT is the REV album. It’s like new songs sampling from the band’s long and diverse career, but written to a higher standard that only time and experience can provide. If any fan of the band expressed their favorite thing about the band’s music, it’s included in this album. Like suggestive lyrics? There’s a song with all sorts of innuendos. Like the darker, western swing-ish era like from the band’s offering Spend a Night in the Box (my previous favorite album)? There’s a song on this album that sounds like it belongs on that one. Like fast music? Like slow music? Like vintage-sounding music? Like more modern, fast paced roots rock and roll? Everything is on the album waiting for you.
I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality and diversity of the album. It was pitched as a more edgy, fast-paced album, and I expected full-throttle from beginning to end. I still expected awesome stuff, but I expected it to all be in the same vein. While the album is edgy and some songs are indeed fast-paced, the album has enough ebbs and flows in tempo, themes, and sounds that keep you interested. It also includes some amazing guitar playing that is very uniquely Jim Heath.
Heath’s playing needs to be heard to be believed. He uses few pedals, instead relying on his playing dynamics and his guitar’s volume, and has a command of multiple genres that are all put in his mind’s blender and what comes out is intricate, difficult stuff, but he plays it effortlessly, usually with his eyes closed on stage, unfazed by what the crowds are doing around him.
REV is the band’s masterpiece so far, and I can’t recommend it enough. If you’ve never heard of the Reverend Horton Heat, this a great starting-point. If you haven’t been listening to their more recent material for whatever reason, you really need to check this album out and get back into them. If you like roots rock and roll in all its varieties, this album is for you. Do yourself a favor and go buy it.
Photo of album cover courtesy of ReverendHortonHeat.com