The Band of Heathens – Sunday Morning Record
The Band of Heathens continues to surprise. While their new album offers up the Americana and Little Feat-styled funk fans have come to expect, there’s a thread of late 1960s production pop that’s a welcome addition. This opening track, “Shotgun,” tips the album’s surprise with its nod to “Everybody’s Talkin’.” Gordy Quist sings the opening “I heard that you were talkin’ ’bout me, I heard you had a smile on your face while you cried, cried, cried,” with a rhythm and melody that easily brings to mind Fred Neil’s original couplet. The song quickly establishes its own sound, but the unison singing, keyboards and electric sitar-like guitar preview echoes of Curt Boettcher, Gary Usher and Brian Wilson heard in several of the album’s tracks.
Ed Jurdi opens the album’s second song with a voice as warm and soulful as Quist’s. Where the opener was pleased to see an indiscreet ex-lover (or, perhaps, a recently departed, smack-talking founding member of the band) receding in the rear-view mirror, “Caroline Williams” is rife with the pain and confusion of the left behind. Recently arrived drummer Richard Millsap adds both rhythm and melody with his tom toms, and a short instrumental pairing of piano and wordless vocals echoes another element of late-60s studio pop. Jurdi and Quest wrote this album amid both personal and band changes, and transition is a running theme. In addition to relationships in formation, reformation and dissolution, there’s a longing for stability and simplicity.
The Heathens’ complexities come to the fore in the personal inventories of “Since I’ve Been Home,” the funky “Miss My Life” and the media-saturated world of “Records in My Bed.” The latter, with some terrific 70s-styled electric piano by Trevor Nealon, fondly remembers the thrill a favorite record brought in a world not yet fragmented by always-on media. Jurdi and Quist are memorable vocalists, ranging from husky soul to fragile Elliot Smith-like falsetto, but the variety of duet styles they manage is even more impressive. In addition to rootsy blends of country and soul, they bind tightly for pop harmonies that suggest Simon & Garfunkel, CS&N and the Beatles. Nealon and Millsap have added new elements to a band that was already multidimensional, making the Band of Heathens’ fourth studio album their most adventurous yet.