Reverend Horton Heat

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

Reverend Horton Heat - Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em ©1992 SubPop
1. Bullet
2. I'm Mad
3. Bad Reputation
4. It's A Dark Day
5. Big Dwarf Rodeo
6. Psychobilly Freakout
7. Put It To Me Straight
8. Marijuana
9. Baby You Know Who
10. Eat Steak
11. D For Dangerous
12. Love Whip

Before going into this review, it ought to be stated that I'm not exactly who you'd call "Mr. Psychobilly". Although I've flirted a bit with the genre in the past, I've found myself nothing but bored with the crop of early to mid eighties British bands who, inspired to action by The Cramps, basically dressed like punks with pompadours and played fairly standard (albeit slightly sped up) rockabilly riffs and declared it a whole new genre of music. However, in the nineties a new batch of bands surfaced that merged rockabilly with revved up rock'n'roll influences and a sneering punk attitude, and to me it is these guys who really came to bring psychobilly into a genre of its own. Prior to that, most of it just sounded like revival music with ruder lyrics to me. But then again, as I said, I'm no expert on this sort of music, nor do I claim to be. That's just what I hear, is all.

Enter Reverend Horton Heat: A Texan band signed to Sub Pop at the height of that record company's period as a noted "grunge" label, they stood out like a sonic sore thumb amongst their label mates by opting for a sound that blended rockabilly, surf, country, hard rock and punk into a hedonistic hellbrew that was propelled forward by a dynamic rhythm section and true-blue hot shit guitar playing provided by the Reverend Horton Heat himself, from which the group derives its namesake. Since the band's formation over twenty years ago, they have since become revered players in the second (or third, depending on how you look at it) wave of more musically muscular psychobilly acts.

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em is Reverend Horton Heat's first album, mostly recorded live in the studio. Between the first and second songs on the album, the former being the surf/spy mostly instrumental "Bullet", and the latter the frantic punk rockabilly and roll (or something) of "I'm Mad", you get a pretty good feel for what most of this album sounds like: bright, clean guitar tones, clicking, thumping stand-up bass, huge sounding drums, and plain-boy country vocals singing odes to meat, danger, and loose women wherever deemed appropriate.

The band's strength lies in their approach of seamlessly allowing their influences to bleed together within these twelve songs. With the exceptions of the straightforward and resolutely anti-vegetarian country of "Eat Steak" and the barroom blues of "Love Whip", these are not a series of punk songs, rockabilly songs, country songs and hard rock songs, nor are they even really a collection of songs containing punk parts, rockabilly parts, etc. Rather, these are songs containing conventionally rockabilly parts played as if they were punk, punk parts as if they were country, country as hard rock, and so on and so forth. The result is that while many of the individual components that make up Reverend Horton Heat's sound are instantly recognizable, the band's music nonetheless comes off sounding wholly fresh and original, a new creation in of itself. This formula doesn't work a hundred percent of the time, and dull riffs abound in a few of these songs ("Big Dwarf Rodeo" for instance features cool surf/spy lead breaks, but little else, and the more conventionally bluesy "Love Whip" ends the album on a rather pedestrian, if not awful point), but at its best Smoke 'Em if You Got 'Em offers sheer rock exhilaration, exemplified (but by no means limited) to such great stomping numbers as the aforementioned "Bullet" (not The Misfits song), "Bad Reputation" (not the Joan Jett song), the swinging "Put It To Me Straight", and anthemic (and nearly instrumental) "Psychobilly Freakout". The slower, brooding "It's a Dark Day" also proves that the band can handle playing creeping, crawling voodoo rockabilly ala The Cramps when they feel like it as well.

All in all, this album has plenty to offer fans of barefisted, unpretentious rock'n'roll, provided that one doesn't mind a little bit of country twang thrown in here and there. And unlike a lot of other psychobilly I've heard, this is an album which actually holds up well on repeated listens, sounding better and better as the hooks become more familiar. Once again, Texas proves itself to be one of the U.S.A.'s leaders in churning out both capital punishment and great, unique musical outfits. Really, it's almost enough to make me care whether or not they secede from the union.

Review by Hunter Brawer

Review date: 09/2009

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