(Patreon Request) Album Review: "The Full Custom Gospel Sounds Of...", The Reverend Horton Heat
Lmao fuck, this may as well be an episode of Myke C-Town’s Out Of My Element, because I’ll be the first to admit I had zero remote investment or background in psychobilly/rockabilly before a couple weeks ago. Cris Sayago, an avid supporter of my videos, recently proved further that he’s an absolute G and donated racks to my Patreon. This qualified him to a full-ass written review on anything he wanted. So, in a sense, for me this felt like being randomly paired up with that one kid in class for a project that I hardly even noticed was there before. But like, someone I realized in week 2 is actually kinda sick despite the fact we’ll never really be close or talk regularly like that.
Genres are strange; targeting one to dive headfirst into can hurt as easily as it can help. Perhaps it’ll help you notice subtle differences that make each individual interpretation of it special, or rather your lack of personal connection with its root ideas will form a wall between you. I’d be lying if I said this never tempted me to reject certain styles entirely, but I do my best to redirect that energy towards finding a method of breaking it down. Surely nothing out there is completely alien to your preferences and experiences, and searching for that emotional overlap can only really strengthen your stamina. And after a few concentrated dives into The Full Custom Gospel Sounds Of, I’m not turned off. Tbh, who knows, maybe 5 years in the future this cowpunk thing’ll be my shit.
So, I learned from the research I squeezed into the past week that The Reverend Horton Heat’s motive was to modernize the foundations laid out by acts like The Cramps in the 80s. Successful psychobilly acts are a concoction of classic country rock, blues rock & punk, and all things considered, the act’s sophomore record reads as a pretty inviting take on the genre. Each influence is so seamlessly incorporated, you could solely take it for an alt-rock record with a southern, zany personality. Meticulous care had to have gone into fusing such opposing sensations smoothly, which is the first element of the album that left me impressed.
It’s clear Jim Heath & the gang can write an irresistible melody, but they’re always framed by monstrous compositions as well. The detours- i.e. turbulent instrumental techniques, tight solos- are tied in snugly and never drag you from the focal point. The grunt of Heath’s lead vocals do occasionally give me the sense that my drunk uncle’s telling stories about the ruckus he and his buds got up to back in the day that I never asked to hear, but the point is that he sells it. However, once he gets a little too close to my face & sloppily belts out jokes that just don’t hit like he thinks, I’m pretty much done for the night. The same could be said for Big Little Baby, Wiggle Stick, Beer:30. Still, I do admit the best way to make these fly is exactly his strategy: perform it like you mean it. Honestly, it’s hard not to react with a fuck yeah after hearing Heath’s enthusiasm as he hollers out “get naked”.
The range of his ability is genuinely impressive, too; he can match every tonal switch that exists on the record. His downtrodden cadence flows into The Devil’s Chasing Me’s sinister magic real nicely. Listening to this cut makes me feel on edge, it’s like riding off into the deep south alone by myself feeling like some kinda fuckin evil cowboy’s about to pull up behind me with a knife. His vocal cords must’ve been strained as hell after screaming his head off on 400 Bucks, one of the most propulsively chaotic tracks here. The slow-burning malevolent energy to Loaded Gun is pushed with a thick growl. Lyrically, I can’t help but feel like between this track’s lines is sincere remorse for the way drugs can devastate your life.
This seems to be a recurring theme. Sure, Bales of Cocaine is a tongue-in-cheek story about hundreds of bags of coke falling from the sky and saving Heath’s financial situation, but it genuinely seems rooted from something deeper. It’s like he’s commenting on how easy this path is, then how easy it can fuck you over in hand. Livin’ on the Edge of Houston and You Can’t Get Away From Me also read as charismatic anecdotes, free of filler. This is where the record’s writing really shines.
I have a love-hate relationship with the album’s layout, however. Sure, there are few throwaways in its whole runtime, and its track-by-track sequencing makes logical sense. However, it’s hard to ignore how constantly dense & overbearing a sit-down experience it is; a breather moment or two towards the last third could fix that.
Typically, when the gang sticks to what they’re good at (i.e. Living on the Edge), it sounds cleaner than their attempts to explore something different. The mob-chanted hook to Nurture My Pig or essentially the most heightened, unapologetic hillbilly anthem that is Bales of Cocaine sound pretty damn unflattering. Even when they do incorporate techniques that interest me, it’s not like the ideas are worked in integrally or expanded upon. The loose, tumultuous abyss of instruments in the closer or Loaded Gun’s dependence on repetition sorta just awkwardly sit there as lone suggestions towards something more. Imagining how they could’ve elevated the album had they appeared in more cuts is painful, tbh.
Still, this wasn’t a bad experience. Admittedly, I don’t see myself banging this record every morning with my coffee, or during a wild night out with my mates, or meditating to it before bed or anything. It’s suited for a pretty specific time or type of person and I’m not sure I see its relevance to my life yet, but that’s rarely something I know right off the bat. I’m all for getting out of my comfort zone and figuring out what has the potential to stick. Boutta go listen to some Minor Threat or Thelonius Monk or some shit rn.