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Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South

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Album Review

On their first album for Bloodshot Records, Buckle in the Bible Belt, Ha Ha Tonka sounded like a fresh and imaginative young band who could take their music in any number of different directions. But as good as that record was, it didn't suggest anything quite as ambitious as Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South, a dynamic and often dark-hued collection of songs inspired by Harold Bell Wright's novel of life in the Ozark hill country near the turn of the century, The Shepherd of the Hills. The title, Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South, sounds like it's reaching for a laugh, and while this album isn't without wit, thematically it is no walk in the park, as themes such as lynching ("What Shepherds of These Hills"), crippling guilt ("Hold My Feet to the Fire"), the excesses of faith ("Walking on the Devil's Backbone"), and the death of hope ("Close Every Valve to Your Bleeding Heart") bob up and down through the lyrics. While these songs don't really cohere into a larger narrative, the album is certainly consistent in tone and approach, and the music is every bit as strong and as brave as the lyrics, ranging from the spare acoustic sound of "A Siege of Sorts" and "So Quiet, They're Loud" to the bold, full-bodied rock of "The Horse in Motion" and "Word Climbing," with the melodies taking any number of unexpected twists and turns along the way, all played with estimable skill and passion by these four musicians. Walking a tightrope between a William Faulkner-esque vision of the South and music that approximates what Whiskeytown could have been with greater focus and less Replacements worship, Ha Ha Tonka have created something special and unexpected with Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South, and it's one of the smartest, most striking roots rock albums to emerge in quite some time.

Biography

Formed: 2004 in Springfield, MO

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Indie rock band Ha Ha Tonka were formed in 2004 in Springfield, Missouri, by singer/guitarist Brian Roberts with Lucas Long (bass, vocals), Brett Anderson (keyboards, guitar, vocals), and Lennon Bone (drums, vocals). Initially, the name of the group was Amsterband. It was with this moniker that they released their debut CD, Beatchen, and began to tour extensively. In 2006, they followed with a second self-released album, Buckle in the Bible Belt. In May 2007, they signed to independent Chicago-based...
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Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South, Ha Ha Tonka
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