Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Whereas this Springfield, Missouri band's last record seemed to be one of midnight drinking parties and corn wine slugged back by the bottle, Ha Ha Tonka take us up onto the mount on "Novel Sounds of the Nouveua South," getting knee-deep in philosophies, spirituals and all matters that could mean salvation or damnation. It's a thicker piece to chew through and it's just as satisfying as the barn burners and recklessness of those more rip-roaring songs of people of the Ozarks having the kind of fun that people of the Ozarks have. The wise men that the band seems to consult at the top of this tip are people just like them, those in flannels and scruffy boots, just a bit further on in years - grandfathers and octogenarians who have been through it all, the great war, women by the bunches, children and grandchildren, crisis after crisis and rebounded from all of it with heavier and headier hearts and souls. They give them excellent advice or impart the kinds of long-winded stories that get boiled down into timeless anecdotes that are carried from generation to generation. These songs are about finishing off lives the right way or just finishing them off - getting to the end and not really getting a chance to reflect, just melt away. They are more sober and introspective, offering a side of someone that doesn't often get lit up or acknowledged. There are vices hinted at and there are lost nights whispered about, and there are all of these angry fires licking at the backsides and feet of the protagonists in these songs. The fires mean harm, but somehow everyone stays just clear enough from them to make it onto the next round, where there are bound to be more fires, just different fires. Lead singer Brian Roberts has an agitation and restlessness to his singing that informs all of the group's songs with an extra number of degrees of temperature, all the better to explore the spectacles that people make of their lives when they feel that's necessary. He sings, "Gonna tie one on tonight," on "Close Every Valve To Your Bleeding Heart," and it's getting us down and into the inner sanctum of where most of the songs on "Novel Sounds" seem to come from, this area that happens to be just far enough removed from where our sanity or our own personal grasp of it allows us to go and that next drop down, into the wing of utter craziness and darkness that has the devil to thank for its amenities. It's a thrilling plunge and there's complimentary moonshine for all as the elevator continues to sink below the surface. Roberts and Ha Ha Tonka take us to a place that forces a man to examine what he's got to show for how he's lived - maybe even long before he needs to consider his legacy or atonement - and then listening to those bearded old men with their pipes and seeing if they can help them out of any of the messes they've created. Or, if the mess is one that couldn't have been altered for the life of them, just they'll just chalk it up to natural causes and they'll head to the bar for some kind of casual nightcap.
Ha Ha Tonka's Official Site
Ha Ha Tonka's Debut Daytrotter Session