The Band of Heathens new disc, Top Hat Crown & The Clapmaster’s Son counts as this Austin, Texas, band’s third studio album. Produced by George Reiff (Chris Robinson & Ray Wylie Hubbard), Top Hat Crown & The Clapmaster’s Son lodges The Band of Heathens in America’s category of most talented and hardworking groups around.
The band’s primary songwriters—Ed Jurdi, Gordy Quist and Colin Brooks—allow the band the cover fertile songwriting ground. The dynamic collaborative aesthetic of the Band of Heathens serves as the patchwork quilt of material on these 10 songs. The economy of material on Top Hat gives it strength. Sometimes groups put too many tunes on an album, and weaken the potency of the stronger songs—this is not the case on Top Hat.
“Medicine Man” serves as the greasy and side-winding opening song. “Should Have Known”, an acoustic number emerges as a potentially barroom sing along. “Polaroid” exists as a pleasant country-ish tune the band admitted formed from listening to The Jayhawks and the mid-career Beatles.
“Enough” sounds like a cross between Little Feat and Dr. John in this laid-back as molasses groove. “The Other Broadway” demonstrates The Band of Heathens’ versatility on this piano ballad that features The Mad Horny Toad Horns. “I Ain’t Runnin’" sparks a back street Austin funk, and should transfer well to a live audience.
“Gravity”, an open-road love song, epitomizes this group’s essence and serves as a centerpiece song on this collection. “Free Again” is a bayou-drenched song dedicated to the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf that leads into the next tune “Hurricane”. The only cover song on the album--“Hurricane”--the Heathens learned from an old Levon Helm album.
The acoustic, back porch gem “Gris-Gris Satchel” captures a timeless spirit in the words “Free from all my burdens/Paid up all my debts/Gris-gris satchel in my hand/A cross around my neck.” Top Hat Crown & The Clapmaster’s Son sounds like musical soul food from a redemptive band of heathens…