If you're of the 'billy persuasion, musically speaking, primed for some in-your-face, rip-snortin', bust-out-the-windows rock-and-roll action, Jim Heath is your go-to guy. As the Reverend Horton Heat, he packs a knockout punch, his big orange Gretsch 6120 cutting a swath through a passel of good-time twang and thump with a dose of whammy bar and a splash of reverb. Recently, some of that reverb has splashed on his vocals too. Not that ludicrous Auto-Tuned mess, but a bit of a tweak that adds an element that Heath says he's been needing his whole career. Not that there've been any complaints. The Rev's raucous roars have been the perfect counterpoint to his wild-ass guitar excursions for over three decades. His vocals have been downsized and naturalized, without taking anything away from his powerful delivery.
Heath calls his latest effort “the most positive album I've ever written.” It's one of his most raucous as well, and that's saying something. The title cut is a rip-roaring rattler with Jerry Lee-style piano accompaniment by new Heat addition Matt Jordan. It's old-school, instrumentally and lyrically, busting out with Heath's rippling rockabilly riffs, with the lyrics harking back to a time when folks living down on the farm thought it was a big deal to go to town a get some store-bought clothes. But despite his new found prosperity, Heath still hedges his bets: “I'm a man who's on the way,” he sings, “but I'm not gonna throw throw the old handmade clothes away.”
“Hog Tyin' Woman” is reverb-drenched 'billy-blues fusion, like the Stray Cats trussed up with Little Charlie and the Nightcats. Heath is singing in a more natural voice on this outing than at any time in his career. It makes him sound a lot more vulnerable, the lyrics having a greater impact than if he'd just shouted them out like a 'billy herder. “Hate To See You Cry'' addresses the impact Heath's touring schedule had on his daughters, but ends on a positive note: “hold dreams near and never give up hope,” Heath galloping along on guitar like Scotty Moore backing Elvis early on with RJ Contreras firing off rimshots like a machine gun. Fans of the old Heath will be satiated with“Got It In My Pocket,” packed full of the full-tilt, whackamole frenzy you've come to expect from the 'billy demon, replete with anguished rodent screams as he brings the hammer down. Heath invents a new genre, second line 'billy, on “Tchoupitolas Street,” featuring Jordan channeling Fess in full-blown carnival mode with a big rockabilly string twistin' twang tossed in. The spirit of Buddy Holly shines through “Sunrise Through The Power Lines,” Heath's guitar like thrumming power lines transmitting the message that you should look beyond them for inspiration. “Wonky” is a great tension reliever, a wiggly, knee-bendin' celebration of everything in life that goes sideways. “Perfect” is a tongue-in-cheek comparison of Heath to his idol Roy Orbison that has Heath sounding more like David Byrne than Orbison. Heath admits that “Viva Las Vegas” is over-obviously Elvis territory, but Heated up, Samba-billied and sped up, and with Heath stretching his tonsils within a fingernail's reach of Big E's glory, it's pretty damn good entertainment. Heath has achieved the nigh impossible here for an artist this far along in his career: unveiling a change-up vocal pitch that still crosses the strike zone every time.