Ha Ha Tonka Novel Sounds Of The Nouveau South

As the titles of the album and such songs as "Thoreau In The Woods" and "Walking On The Devil's Backbone" suggest, here's a group with literary pretensions. Thankfully, the Missouri band have the lyrical and musical chops to pull them off. They scored kudos with their 2007 album, Buckle In The Bible Belt, and that's sure to be repeated for this one. Sparse, intense, short opening track "Pendergast Machine" sets the tone, though they falter a little on the next cut, "Hold My Feet To The Fire." Its overwrought vocals suggest the god-awful Live but thankfully it's a minor slip. Four-part vocal harmonies occasionally impart a neo-gospel feel, while martial drumming drives the sweetly melodic "Surrounded." If Novel Sounds was a novel, it'd be Southern gothic. The songs are full of sin and violence, with echoes of the Civil War ("The Horse In Motion," "A Siege Of Sorts") and lynch mobs ("What Shepherds Of These Hills?"). There aren't many laughs to be had with this record but it's a solid achievement. (Bloodshot)