Album Review: The Band of Heathens – One Foot In The Ether
The Band of Heathens has taken something of an unorthodox approach in its ascent to Americana notoriety. The Austin-based quintet made two live records and amassed a legion of fans before releasing its self-titled debut in 2008. Now, the band is back with its second effort, One Foot in the Ether.
Fans of Cross Canadian Ragweed and Drag the River may find similar enjoyment in The Band of Heathens, as the latter blends rock, alt-country, and a little bit of R&B. Much like one of the Heathens’ primary influences, The Band (with its Helm/Danko/Manuel combination), here the lead singing duties are divided between Ed Jurdi, Gordy Quist, and Colin Brooks. This trio constitutes the group’s founding members and principal songwriters. For the most part, it’s one singer per song, but when all three share lead vocals, as they do on “Right Here With Me,” it’s a real treat, and gives One Foot in the Ether the feeling of an informal jam session.
Thanks to their generally scrappy nature, The Band of Heathens doesn’t really seem to be down with earnest declarations of domestic bliss and eternal devotion, but that doesn’t mean they can’t write a fine love song—one with a Biblical allusion, no less. “Let Your Heart Not Be Troubled,” comes from John 14:1, and its message (about easing another’s burdens), is about as loving as you can get. As it turns out, for a band of, well, heathens, these guys sure can sing a mean gospel song. “Shine A Light” epitomizes the idea of a joyful noise as Brooks takes the lead vocals while tambourine, organ, and the backing vocals of Jurdi and Quist ring in the background with the fervor of a tent meeting.
But it’s not all good times and spiritual revival on One Foot in the Ether. The guys also display a strong sense of social awareness on several songs including “What’s This World,” which finds Gordy Quist despairing the modern state of affairs as he sings “We’ve got debts to pay but all our cards are drawn/They’ll be paying our dues long after we’re gone/Tell me what’s this world that we’re clinging to/It’s all for one but none for two.” Likewise, closing track “Hey Rider” is a six minute lullaby for a troubled planet, ending the album with the optimistic hope that “all is not lost.”
The lone cover on One Foot in the Ether is a soulful take on Gillian Welch’s “Look at Miss Ohio.” It’s on this track that the influence of The Band is most readily apparent. Other influences, musical and non, pop up throughout the record as well, like when Colin Brooks channels the funk groove of Sly Stone on “Let Somebody Tell the Truth,” or when the boys pay tribute to the late Hunter S. Thompson with “L.A. County Blues.”
If there’s one bum track on the album, it’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me;” it isn’t a horrible song by any means, but its place in the lineup—sandwiched between two of the record’s strongest songs—calls attention to its comparative boringness and its inability to hold up to multiple listens. Overall, though, One Foot in the Ether is a solid sophomore studio record. Sure, a song or two could be cut without substantially altering the album, but when the rest of the music is this good, that doesn’t matter so much.
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