In the popular context, referring to any artist or outfit as hailing from the “heartland” implies a certain down-home proficiency — all fiddles, harmonies, homilies and back porch convergence. It is a cliche of course, but an often used one at that, a convenient way to typecast a style of music and those that find their focus making it for the average Everyman.
Ha Ha Tonka comes about that label though an actual birthright, their particular origins being Missouri and the midwest, a place that’s birthed bands with such storied pasts as the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and, well, others whose names may not immediately come to mind. They’ve earned accolades for their previous albums, hinting at a bright future while still remaining well below the radar. So in that regard, Heart-Shaped Mountain goes a long way towards assuring their big breakthrough, an album so well equipped with hooks and happenstance that practically every one of its ten songs will qualify as an anthem waiting to soar.
Ostensively intended to provide a statement about our troubled times and a hint as to their survival, the band’s new songs ring with a resolve that’s both stirring and serendipitous, all in equal measure. When they extol the need to “turn your back on the world” (“Favor”) or breaking the law in Arkansas (“Arkansas”), it’s not so much a matter of what’s said, but rather how they say it. It’s the verve, the drive, the determination that matters most, the sheer energy and exhilaration that surges through each of these songs and finds them soaring with such compelling determination and clear, absolute conviction.
Ultimately, there’s no reason to wax philosophical on Ha Ha Tonka’s ultimate motivation; Heart-Shaped Mountain is nothing if not a superb rock ’n’ roll album. The fact that it’s also a rallying cry for today’s disaffected masses makes it all the more essential. Could they be the next populist heroes for the current millennium? One listen to Heart-Shaped Mountain and it’s hard to argue otherwise.