The Band of Heathens
For their fifth studio release, The Band of Heathens seems to be undergoing a “Wilco-lization”, alluding to the change of style that Wilco brought about between 1996’s Being There and the more pop-based, experimental sound of Summerteeth in 1999. One can scarcely remember the alt-country sounds of their debut A.M. in these days of Nels Cline, et al. I recall the howls of protest that Summerteeth unleashed (hell, I was one of them!) but now, years later, Wilco is still Wilco, still great.
One hopes for the same with The Band of Heathens. Their newest, Duende continues the great harmonies and playing of the bands last album, 2013’s Sunday Morning Record, but instead of acoustic, country-based moments, Duende tries a heavier, more electric vibe that nearly works. The opener, “All I’m Asking”, with its handclaps and fuzzed-out guitar, or the driving funk of “Sugar Queen” sound a more like some AOR act than a band that once sounded like Gram Parson’s cousins. The enthused “Last Minute Man” or “Keys to the Kingdom” are more akin to their previous work, and the ragged “Trouble Came Early” is a nifty Stone-ish rocker, but a far cry from the soulful and pedal steel touched early days.
The final three cuts- the wistful “Cracking the Code”, the somber “Road Dust Wheels” and the hippie anthem in waiting “Green Grass of California” bridge the two styles compellingly, and bode well for The Band of Heathens further success melding the various elements of their sound. Like Wilco, it will just take some time.