on April 16, 2011
Recipe for _Death of a Decade_:
1 part Old 97's
1 part Alison Krauss
1 part Akron/Family
1 part Arcade Fire
dash of Ozark Mountain Daredevils
Combine all ingredients in blender. Mix well. Allow to settle one week in historic upstate New York barn. Distill to 100 proof. Present to Bloodshot Records for release.
Sounds like a strange concoction for sure, but the result is a stunningly visionary work that proves what I've been saying for years: that Ha Ha Tonka is THE band to watch on the Americana music scene and will be for a long time to come. The group has undergone a total sonic transformation over the span of their relatively brief collaboration, yet they remain true to their Ozark roots. The result is a sound like nothing you've ever heard before and a dish that will serve the musical tastes of an ever-growing legion of fans.
It all started with the rechristening of the band and the release of their seminal work _Buckle in the Bible Belt_ in 2006-7. The album, a high-energy mix of rock and country drawing alternately from traditional folklore and contemporary experience, still stands as the penultimate work in the entire genre, behind only Lucinda Williams' masterpiece _Car Wheels on a Gravel Road_. Yet for all of its brilliance--much resting on the shoulders of lead singer and budding master lyricist Brian Roberts--the album was still a fairly conventional alt country offering, heavy on the alt.
The group stepped up their game creatively with 2009's _Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South_. Despite the alliterative and vowel-heavy Frenchified title, the concept album was actually a return to their origins, blending more country and bluegrass elements into the songs while maintaining a lyrical reliance on the local Southern Missouri storytelling tradition. Roberts' efforts as wordsmith continued to be strong but the musical tone shifted, with more complicated compositions where Brett Anderson's mandolin began replacing some--though not all--of the power guitar riffs evident on Buckle.
Then came _Death of a Decade_, which folds even more influences into the mix as the band matures toward their own distinct sound. Their base is still the classic alt country of the Old 97's with the bluegrass roots of Alison Krauss underneath, but the wall of sound poppiness of Arcade Fire pervades nearly every song, while chanting vocals à la Akron/Family add an almost hypnotic quality. The intricately woven blend makes this new offering greater than the sum of its parts and gives it a sound that stands out from anything else out there.
The highlights of the album are a trio of songs starting with the first single, "Usual Suspects." Driven by Lucas Long's rolling bass line and Lennon Bone's cymbal-crashing beats, the song also showcases the growing influence of Anderson's mandolin in the structure of the band's music. The next standout is "Made Example Of," again demonstrating the picking skills of Anderson and featuring masterfully blended vocal harmonies. Perhaps more than any other, this track demonstrates the new direction the band is taking as their sound comes to fruition. Finally there is "The Humorist," a powerful song and the standout lyrical composition, which not only demonstrates Roberts' love of Missouri history, but also proves that somebody actually made it all the way through Mark Twain's autobiography and didn't just leave it sitting on the coffee table to impress visitors.
In between these hallmarks are tracks that are not just filler, but which many other musicians would envy. The second offering on the album, the Horace Greeley inspired coming-of-age song "Westward Bound," is a good representation, featuring a two-toned feel due to several tempo changes, impressively harmonic vocal chants, and characteristically pithy lyrics. This song, "Jesusita," and "No Great Harm" also demonstrate some of the best usage to date of Long's gut-shuddering bass vocals, a seasoning underused on previous albums that adds a complex flavor key to the dish as a whole. The lone composition by lead guitarist Anderson, "Dead Man's Hand," is a haunting down-tempo number with plenty of poetic imagery that suggests that he, too, is growing as a songwriter. And the title track combines driving bass guitar and kick drum along with laid-back yet powerful guitar riffs that soar along with Roberts' briefly falsetto voice.
In the final analysis, Death of a Decade is not Ha Ha Tonka's greatest album. That title still firmly belongs to Buckle in the Bible Belt. However, it is their most imaginative, visionary work to date and will be remembered as a turning point in their discography that marks the formation of a sound exclusively their own. It is also the group's most consistent creation, without a single track that fails to hold the listener's attention or fit seamlessly into the whole. Whether or not the early success of Death of a Decade foretells the band's much-deserved breakout to the forefront of the Americana scene, Ha Ha Tonka's skillful studio work and exceptional, raucous live shows make them a genre-crossing force to be reckoned with. And while this album stands above virtually all of their contemporaries' offerings, given the assemblage of talent at their disposal, there's nowhere to go but up.
on April 4, 2011
Ha Ha Tonka continue to define their distinctive sound in this album. They've got a great sound, and they never stray from their Ozark roots. I like their sound because it's driving and upbeat when you want it to be, but they also can scale it back and have more thoughtful, deliberate moments. I think they have shown noticeable improvements since their previous album, Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South, which I'd also recommend. The vocals blend well with the overall sound of the band, and I never feel like one instrument is overpowering/standing out (unless on purpose!). They play well as a unit, and I enjoy the harmonies and rhythms they explore in their songs.
They are a blast to watch live, too!
on April 4, 2011
For a long time, I've known my friend, Lennon, was the drummer for a band called Ha Ha Tonka. I've had the pleasure of watching them become more and more popular and well-known over the last couple of years. Still, I'm a metalhead, and as talented as they are, their music has never been my style. That is still true, but with this album, their pure talent and skill has overcome my bias for Metal. That isn't easy! If they can do that for me, then anyone can and will love this album! I'm rockin' out it as I type this. Big congrats, Lennon, Luke and the guys! You really killed it. There are those who make it in the bigtime, then there are those who earn a place there, regardless of whether they get it. Ha Ha Tonka is definitely the latter!
on April 4, 2011
Idk what that " Be Real" person is talking about, because he obviously has no ears or is some kind of music snob who thinks highly of himself.. either way it doesnt matter because Ha Ha Tonka's Death of a Decade IS truly remarkable. The recording sounds authentic,lush, and vibrant and the vocals cut through and truly will put a tear in your eye if you so welcome them. Hard working, beyond great live, and worthy of their success, Ha Ha Tonka are the next big thing and this album is a 5 star album.
on April 13, 2011
It's not often that I hear one song from a band, and feel compelled to look up everything they've ever done, but that's what happened with Ha Ha Tonka. Beautiful harmonies, thoughtful lyrics, and the music is fresh and rockin, a little bit country, and little bit rock-n-roll.
on April 5, 2011
This album is going to be one of my favorites of 2011. I've already had a good 10+ listens and I could easily listen to it again and again from start to finish without skipping a single song. Death of a Decade manages to make a modern sound infused in folk, bluegrass, and country. I've loved the use of the mandolin on this album. A really great touch that ties them back to their Ozark roots. The production of the album was done really well. They managed to make it simplistic at the same time having so much going on. Harmonies, clapping, build ups. Everything just sounds perfect. There is a great mix of songs too. Fast paced foot stomping ones, slower paced gang vocal ones and some that manage to pull it all off in one track. If you have half a brain you'll by this album and if you ever get a chance this band is a must see live. Here are my favorites from the album with a line from each song: Made Example Of, "If you don't change where you're going you're gonna end up right where you're headed." Lonely Fortunes, "We are never gonna have much. Myself I take such as a compliment. We can blame it on the circumstances. Oh at least we took the chances we had to." Hide It Well, "Nobody acts like they care to much. You hide it well." Problem Solver, "I had a little momentary lapse of self awareness. She could care less. Yeah, I got problems that I'm working out. I know enough that I don't know myself yet." The Humorist, "Ain't it entertaining, isn't it appealing, the thought of something's always much better than the feeling."
on April 4, 2011
I first discovered Ha Ha Tonka when I took my wife to see Ludo and they opened for Ludo at the TLA in Philly. I was immediately captured by both their presence on stage and the quality of their live show. I bought their first two CD's, Buckle in the Bible Belt and Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South, after the show. They were played a ton in the first few months, as they quickly became one of my favorite bands. I have downloaded Death of a Decade, today, and after an initial listen, I can tell they have delivered again. They have grown from album to album, progressing, in their style and content. I can't wait to give "Death of a Decade" several listens, to pick up all the nuances. Love the harmonies, and I can't wait to see them live this Saturday night!!!!! Buy this album, you'll love it!!!!!
on April 22, 2011
Kudos to Ha Ha Tonka for this wonderful recording. The music here is welcoming and warm, full of simple charm, great vocals and harmony, and excellent instrumental support, much of it acoustic. The music feels comfortable and familiar, even on first listening, and even though the group's sound is all its own. These songs have wonderful energy and a delightfully positive feel. And for all their graceful power, the tunes are never overdone. Rather, they are carefully and elegantly arranged, beautifully spare and really lovely to hear. This is one hell of an effort from what I now know to be one hell of a band.
on April 13, 2011
I've had the pleasure of watching Ha Ha Tonka a couple of times live. Living in Michigan, it was surprising to see them not only open one night at a small bar, but to find out that they were turning back around and doing a free show 2-3 weeks later at a another venue. I talked to them after the show, bought both CD's, that were then available and talked to the band, whose statement was "Burn tracks, give them to your friends, and have them come out to see us". I was impressed, they were doing everything they could to build an audience. Their live show was amazing, multi-talented, and 4 part gospel-trained harmony blew me away with a version of Hangman that would have left Plant and Page standing there with their jaws dropping, and any band that can write a paen to a 12-inch, 3-speed oscillating fan is tops in my book.
That said, this album is leaps beyond their first two and will hit some Best of and Top 10 lists at the end of the year, unfortunately, within their "niche" as music becomes more corporatized, branded and segmented, instead of just music, but that's another story.
The production is pristine. They recorded this in upstate New York in a barn, and the sound is captured perfectly, and I am impressed with the sound of Lennon Bone's drum kit as it was captured, and the harmonic vocals. It's not raw, but rather, captured as it sounded and it's perfect. There are no throw-off cuts, or bad cuts, and there are 5 absolutely stand-out cuts, leading to the rating.
The opener, Usual Suspects, is a perfect intro for listeners who've not heard HHT before, with the vocal harmonies, a driving rhythm, sly lyrics and Brett Anderson absolutely assaulting the mandolin like it was a Les Paul.
Westward Bound is solid lyrically, and is a fascinating song, with multiple bridges and rhythm changes.
Problem Solver, Death of a Decade and The Humorist all are complex, and require a great interplay between the band members, and for them to have been one-take recorded in that barn, reflect a band that has spent significant time on the road, playing with one another night after night and getting tighter as time goes by, and having that uncanny knack that bands who are "together" do, of being able to anticipate what each other is going to do.
Two cuts off this album, The Humorist and Problem Solver could literally be lifted right off the album and put right into the Kings of Leon latest release, and the same could be said for two cuts I could think of from KOL. This isn't meant in a copycat sense, nor to mean that they sound exactly alike, but rather to reflect the maturation of HHT's sound and their willingness to experiment.
The money you spend on this album will be well worth it.
on April 6, 2011
I thought I would take a chance and download this album at the discount price. It is a
great album. All of the songs are very good with no throw aways. Usual Suspect is one
of the best songs I have heard in quite some time and is heavy rotation in my music
universe. I am very much looking forward to hearing more from this great band.