On their newest album, “Top Hat Crown & the Clapmaster’s Son,” The Band of Heathens continue to refine their kitchen sink approach to southern music. Combining elements of rock, country, soul, blues, funk, gospel, and whatever else that might come up in the process and with whatever instruments deemed appropriate (lapsteel, resonator guitars, piano, organ, horns — just look at the liner notes), TBoH has drawn comparisons to The Allman Brothers Band, Little Feat, and The Band among others. Their last album, “One Foot in the Ether,” which, like the album before it, was strong enough to spend time at the top of the Americana chart and made expectations pretty high for this release.
The songwriting on “Top Hat Crown” is a little more consistent than “Ether,” which, though a great set of songs, had some odd phrasings and a metaphor or two that didn’t quite work. However, one of the things TBoH did so well on “Ether” was having all 3 singer/songwriters trade verses on songs (“Shine a Light,” “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” and “Right Here With Me”). That only happens on “Top Hat Crown” once — on the acoustic album closer, “Gris Gris Satchel.”
The opener, “Medicine Man,” has a great swagger to it, and “Should Have Known” is so catchy I can’t get it out of my head (a good thing). “Polaroid,” is a great jangly, rootsy pop song, and definitely recalls the Jayhawks, who TBoH reference as an influence. “Free Again,” released last summer in response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, is also a force to be reckoned with, and the lone cover, “Hurricane,” appropriately follows (It was originally recorded by Levon Helm for “American Son.”). It’s an impressive cover; they slowed the tempo just a bit, went much more spare on the instrumentation, and make a pretty nice argument that it’s how it should have been done in the first place.
Perhaps it’s partly due to the fact that TBoH like to keep things mid-tempo, but I got a little lost in the middle album, feeling like the songs just blended into each other a bit too much. It’s a minor gripe, as “Top Hat Crown” is another very strong set of songs from TBoH — one that should keep their fans happy and convert some more. Still, it feels like a very good album from a band that’s itching to make a great one.
[mp3 keywords=”The Band Of Heathens” tag=”coumuspri-20″ width=”336″ height=”280″]