While their signature drink may be sweet enough to spike your blood sugar levels to the point of diabetic coma (orange juice and all kinds of sweet whiskeys and liqueurs), Ha Ha Tonka’s tunes and demeanor are not that. Adventurous and geographically diverse as the Missouri state park for which the band was named, Ha Ha Tonka‘s songs pour out as saturated yet rugged legs of a journey. In these tracks from Ha Ha Tonka’s latest album, Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South (2009, Bloodshot Records), the thoughtful, educated, easygoing bunch tackles ponderous subject matter inspired by historical woes, successfully pulling off holistic engagement and penetration (rather than just a heady exploration) through their full-bodied authentism, top musicianship all the way around and Brian’s insanely awesome voice, retaining an overall feeling of hopefulness amidst heavy topics.
Ha Ha Tonka bears a Southern similarity in vibe to the sound of These United States, only less pop and more grounded. It’s unbelievable to me that Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South is only Ha Ha Tonka’s sophomore album. As such, it’s a tremendously fat step forward for the band and a ripe augur for aficianados. And while these recordings are killer, the synergy of the bunch live and in person can’t be beat. Perhaps it’s that Brian Roberts, the redheaded shoe-in for Dr Emilio Lazardo, rousing lead singer and guitarist and Luke Long, bass player with the looks of young Bob Dylan and the lowest register singing voice I’ve ever encountered (deeper than Barry White’s speaking voice or Sha Na Na’s Bowzer), childhood friends and musical partners in crime for a long time now, have matured and really hit their stride with bandmembers Brett Anderson, who plays a mean mandolin and guitar and offers high harmonies, and Lennon Bone, drummer, percussionist, egg-shaker extraordinaire as well as vocalist. The four part harmonies are rich and real. Everyone’s in synch. Ha Ha Tonka is the real deal. Listen, watch, enjoy this righteous session and keep this band on your radar.
Listen to the Exclusive Live Recordings (option/click to download):