The Band of Heathens are a veteran group no strangers to the Americana scene. Formed since 2005, the Austin, Texas based group tends to primarily stick to a sound grounded in rock with plenty of country, blues and soul influences mixed in for good measure. In other words, they fit the Americana definition quite well. The Americana Music Association nominated them in 2009 for New Emerging Artist and in 2010 for Best Duo/Group of the Year. Only two original members of the group are still apart of the band, Ed Jurdi (vocals, guitars, harmonica, keyboard) and Gordy Quist (vocals, guitars, harmonica). The rest of the current group joined from 2011 on, including Trevor Nealon (keyboards), Richard Millsap (drums) and Scott Davis (bass, vocals). Their last album came in 2013, Sunday Morning Record, which was excellent and really set the bar high moving forward. If you haven’t heard it I highly recommend it. They return now with the follow-up and their fifth studio album, Duende.
The opener “All I’m Asking” gets the album off to a fun start. It’s instantly catchy lyrics and beat makes it a real toe tapper. The vocals are also great, really conveying the desperation of a man trying to change a woman’s mind of him. The smooth, easy-going melody of “Last Minute Man” is infectious. “Deep is Love” seems cliché and corny upon the first listen. But then you listen to it more and the production really frames the song well, having an almost throwback quality. Not to mention the vocals make me really buy into what the song is saying. “Trouble Came Early” is a more raucous rocker with great keyboard and electric guitar play. The Band of Heathens take a more soulful approach on “Daddy Longlegs,” sort of outlier to the rest of the album. But it surprisingly works really well, arguably the best track on the record. The song goes into great detail of how a woman’s love and features a killer organ line throughout.
The most interesting song of the album is “Cracking the C0de,” which serves as commentary on social media and relationships. Specifically it takes a look at how this virtual world lacks the real connection of physically being with a person. It’s real thought-provoking. “Road Dust Wheels” offers some compelling thoughts on people migrating from Mexico to America. The group really harmonizes well on the final track “Green Grass of California.” I would have liked to hear that even more throughout the album, in addition to the thick steel guitar play. It’s a really great combination. The last song I have to mention is “Keys to the Kingdom,” which really didn’t catch my ear at first. But then after more listens it clicked and I’ll leave it to you to figure it out too because it’s a great, though sad message that I think applies well to the concept of the American dream.
Overall I find Duende to be a great album. It features rock solid instrumentation, which is a real strong suit of The Band of Heathens. The second half of this album in particular is really enjoyable and is the band shining at their best. The whole album has a great variety of both fun and thoughtful songs. There’s a real smoothness about everything this band does and this really resonates with the listener. Once again The Band of Heathens deliver great music and make Duende an album definitely worth your time.
Recommend? – Yes
Album Highlights: Cracking the C0de, Road Dust Wheels, Keys to the Kingdom, Daddy Longlegs, All I’m Asking, Green Grass of California
Bad Songs: None