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Ha Ha Tonka
Novel Sounds Of The Nouveau South
Bloodshot Records
www.hahatonkamusic.com


First came the chicken, then the egg, then Amsterband and finally Ha Ha Tonka. You could probably trace the official beginning of these four guys to 2006 when Buckle In The Bible Belt was released. Yet with time comes name changes; though a rose by any other name….well let's just say that that amazing band is still there.

It's three years later and Ha Ha Tonka have finally made it back into the studio for their sophomore album. Novel Sounds Of The Nouveau South takes that music you came to love in Buckle... and puts just a bit of new-fangled spin on it, making it perfect for an outdoor adventure.

"Pendergast Machine" starts off our meander down Jacks Fork River (cuts through the Ozarks of Missouri - home to Ha Ha). Now the fact that this song's title is based off some interesting political Missouri history makes you wonder the significance of the lyrics themselves. Perhaps it's best not to know, because I feel as though that would take away from the strength and power of the music. Besides Brian's almost angry voice there's really only electric guitar, though the guitar feels like it's a little angry itself. The presence of any other instrument would take away from the simplicity of this song. With "Hold My Feet To The Fire" the guys moved away from the seriousness and brought up the tempo a bit. In this one I can't decide which element is my favorite, either Brett and his lead guitar that easily distinguishes itself from the group with a set of precision rock notes that seem to get embedded in your subconscious, or there are those great quintessential Tonka harmonies that always make you wonder if there's a choir [in the] background. But then again, they have managed to find a way to mix the two, so perhaps I don't have to choose. I have to jump down to "Walking On The Devils Backbone," mostly because for some inexplicable reason I will find myself singing the first part of this song to myself and naturally leading into a burst of dancing. Though, I think the main reason is this song brings me back to a time of "St. Nick On The Fourth In A Fevor" or "Gusto" from their first album. This is where we get "down-home rock," a type of music that can comfort you, while grooving you to the point of pure exhaustion. The drums on this one help out significantly with the whole grooving aspect. And if you listen closely, it seems that Lennon's figured out a sound that's nearly perfect for an old west scene (hoof beats perhaps?). As you're undeniably covered in sweat now, they recognize this and give you a moment or two to take a breath. "Close Every Valve Of Your Beating Heart" is so beautiful, that the only thing that would make it better would be to hear it on an old screened-in porch next to that river we're floating down. It's nearly acoustic, and I say nearly because the beginning is acoustic and basically solo, just Brian and his guitar. It's not until after a minute has passed, that a hint of drums sneaks in. But that's all it takes, because a few moments later and you've got electricity surging out the other instruments, practically knocking you down. But don't worry, 'cause Brian will pick you back up at the end. I could sit here and delve into each song, but I'll only focus on a couple more: "So Quiet, They're Loud." Remember that river we're meandering down? This is the song I would want to hear for that trip. The harmonies (of all four, including Luke) would match perfectly to the sun dancing through the trees and the guitar/drums to that of the brook babbling into the river. If anything's "plugged" you can't tell and you'd almost prefer that it's not. Just sit back, close your eyes and listen to the music. Lastly, to throw just a little bit more musicianship at ya, they have "Thoreau In The Woods," whose delicate guitar intro has such the Radiohead resemblance, it could make you fall in love [with the song].

I'm not sure I ever really need to visit the Ozarks, as I'm taken there everytime I listen to Ha Ha Tonka. You get the distinction that the guys have grown up a bit since Bible..., but that's all for the best. You want your favorite band to make an album like this. It's an experience in every sense of the word.

-Rachel Fredrickson

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