For a self-proclaimed Band of Heathens, these five Austin, Texans have been religious about honing their brand these last 17 years. In 2008, the irreverent Ray Wylie Hubbard rightly produced The Band of Heathens’ self-titled debut album, and it hit No. 1 on the Americana charts. Six more studio albums followed, each revealing new facets and approaches. Gordy Quist and Ed Jurdi — gifted writers, singers, guitarists and harmonica players both — lead The Band of Heathens through Americana music that rolls like waves from a transistor radio, its dial often spinning off the AM band in search of FM, XM, and the net.
Albums comprised of covers have long been a dime a dozen. “Remote Transmissions (Vol. 1),” named after a segment of a weekly variety show The Band of Heathens hosted to keep locked-down juices flowing, is one worth its weight in gold. Ten songs that beam in 10 different directions. Many were popular during the 1970s, one of rock’s true golden ages. All feature a special guest giving it all they have in made-in-heaven matches.
White Denim’s James Petralli joins the band for “Rock and Roll Doctor,” all righteously slippery within the loose, funky burn of Lowell George’s Little Feat classic. A dead-on, old Little Feat feel brightened by new character. That tactic, employed throughout the album, ends up successfully defining it. “Tumblin’ Dice” has the excellent Ms. Nikki Bluhm singing up front with Jurdi and Quist, slinky and mighty at once, on a splendid revival of timeless rocker. In another twist on the Stones, Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke steps up for a fittingly barroom-rickety take on “You Got the Silver.”
“Papa was a Rolling Stone” sung by Ray Wylie Hubbard? Of course. The effects he, Quist, and Jurdi achieve in voice are like broken shards of a glitter ball poking up through a mud slick. Lucinda Williams’ “Joy,” commanded by Margo Price in a black sneer of a voice, startles. The song’s rage, and the band’s performance, settle in like a shot of something forbidden. But then then there’s Butch Walker, quite sparkling on a bulls-eye version of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves,” the beauty and comfort of the song still unfolding, all these years later.
Underneath it all, and because of it all, The Band of Heathens make rock ‘n’ roll of the highest order, rendered with smooth professionalism, rough edges, and very tempting cadences.
- The Band of Heathens
- ‘Remote Transmissions (Vol. 1)’
- Label: BOH
- Release: Feb. 25, 2022