Laughin’ & Cryin’ with the Reverend Horton Heat finds the Rev (and Jimbo and the boys) back with a brand new barrel of licks. Naturally, this album contains tracks that touch on all of the styles RHH is known to employ, from country blues and Texas swing to hillbilly hi-jinks and ripped up rock ‘n’ roll. Mostly, though, this time out has Jim Heath wearing the greasepaint and playing the rockabilly rodeo clown.
The opening “Drinkin’ and Smokin’ Cigarettes” immediately gets things swinging with a promise to keep enjoying vices until love reforms those wayward ways. “Ain’t No Saguaro in Texas” aims to set the world straight about Hollywood’s go-to comical cactus (you know, the one that looks like it’s surrendering at gunpoint?). Musically, the song is a little like the soundtrack for a cartoon, not in a goofy sound-effect sense, but in its mix of sounds used to propel the lyric narrative. A polished, Nashville-style country music mood meets a mariachi/polka beat. Oh, and it’s catchy, too. Once this song makes the rounds, no filmmaker will ever mistake Arizona for the Lone Star State again!
The funny stuff continues with “Death Metal Guys”, a song about the many marked difference between rockabillies and the title’s types, which features a fast pace and blistering guitar that approaches the psychobilly threshold of old, but doesn’t quite cross it. But that’s not a bad thing, as this song will surely become a live favorite. Next up, “River Ran Dry” takes a downturn, lyrically, as drought is addressed (via an absence of catfish). However, musically it’s another upbeat rockabilly classic. “Please Don’t Take The Baby To The Liquor Store” and “Oh, God! Doesn’t Work In Vegas” are two more tracks that take serious subjects (alcoholism and gambling addiction) and turn them on their ears, Reverend Horton Heat style. Both piano-driven, bass-slappin’ humor-in-hard-times examples of what Heath does best.
Much of the rest of the album is filled with some countrified pride sentiments, such as “Rural Point of View” and “There’s a Little Bit of Everything in Texas” (except, of course, Saguaro), and with more comedy like “Beer Holder”, “Crazy Ex-Boyfriend”, and “Just Let Me Hold My Paycheck”. In a brilliantly weird, almost lounge-lizard song of lost love, “Aw, the Humanity”, we hear of the Hindenburg of broken hearts, and Snoopy and all four members of Led Zeppelin are mentioned by name. There are also two genius instrumental tracks. “Spacewalk” is a gorgeous, mesmerizing pedal steel piece that takes Santo and Johnny to the stars, while “Oh by Jingo!” ends the album with a cool-rockin, country-pickin’ nod to Chet Atkins.
Some fans of the Reverend Horton Heat might lament the lack of psychobilly barn-burners on this record, or resent what they perceive to be a mellower, more mature Reverend. How sad for them if that’s the case, because although it’s true that these tracks tend to lean a bit more in the direction of the country part of rockabilly than toward the rave-up rockers, it still seems to me that there’s a lot more laughin’ than cryin’ going on here.