The three principal songwriters in Band of Heathens – Colin Brooks, Ed Jurdi, and Gordy Quist – all met in 2006 while each played separate solo residencies at Austin, Texas club Momo’s. Through spontaneous jam sessions, “by accident”, they joined forces, melding their roots rock leanings to make collective, joyful noise. The band celebrates their very successful 2010 by dropping a new album in late March called Top Hat Crown & The Clapmaster’s Son. This follows One Foot in the Ether, an album that topped Billboard’s Americana charts. Oft-compared to The Band for their rugged harmonies, three lead vocalists and multi-instrument leanings, Band of Heathens are road warriors, performing more than 200 shows last year.
Two songs into Top Hat the band showcase their backcountry rock n’ roll when Ed Jurdi sings lead on “Should Have Known Better”. Jurdi’s voice is a revelation, full of gravelly soul and drenched in gospel overtones. Bar room piano, mandolin and acoustic guitars punch and swing over a full country groove. “Polaroid” plays as sweet cowboy pop, a little Waylon Jennings vs. Tom Petty. Pristine production and sharp instrumentation keeps the downhome vibe rolling.
“The Other Broadway” is an elegant piece of rustic soul. Horns and piano accents dance furtively with Jurdi’s vocal charm, bringing a sense of ecstatic release. “I Aint Running” and “Free Again” channel a Dr. John vibe, the later an ode to the tragic gulf coast oil spill. In the former, handclaps and a creative, delayed cowbell beat will have you dancing in the living room. A foot stomper played with passion and urgency.
There is a collaborative, one for all spirit on Top Hat and if you like the new wave of Americana acts like Deer Tick and Dawes you will have a soft spot for Band of Heathens. Its not a perfect album, there are lulls in the generic country rock of opener “Medicine Man” and the blues bounce of “Enough” but it is abundantly clear this is a group of focused songwriters and tour hounds, a unit to be reckoned with. “Gris Gris Satchel” ends the album solemnly with each vocalist taking a turn on the slow cooking chorus. Feel this.