The Band of Heathens have been together for more than 15 years. They have undergone many changes during that time in terms of style and personnel, but the ragged but right guitarists/singers/songwriters Gordy Quist and Ed Jurdi remain the heart and soul of the act. Their voices and instruments blend as naturally as fellow Texans Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson do. The two buds maintain their separate identity on individual songs, but something special happens when they join together. The recent addition of bass player Nick Jay and drummer Clint Simmons to replace long-time members Trevor Nealon, Richard Millsap, and Jesse Wilson has only freshened the groove. The Band of Heathens still have that earthy, good-time sound but seem reinvigorated by the changes that have taken place.
Quist, Jurdi, and company returned to the group’s original hometown of Austin to record their eighth studio album, Simple Things. While the band members no longer live there, they own a recording studio in town and get together a few days almost every month to share ideas. As a result, there’s a vital communal aspect to their music. The new songs thematically and sonically share the same sensibility, no matter who wrote them. As the title implies, the Band of Heathens care about the simple things in life, such as finding pleasure in being at home with the family, making music, hanging out with friends, experiencing nature, and appreciating being alive.
Simple Things begins with the cautionary “Don’t Let the Darkness” that moves to an up-tempo beat. “Don’t get lost chasing answers to everything that went wrong / Don’t let the darkness get in front of you,” they advise. The record ends with the optimistic “All That Remains”. They croon “All that remains is love” over an appropriately Beatlesque instrumentation. The songs in between offer evidence of the hard times and the good thoughts that emerge from living through a difficult period. Maybe all you need is love is true, but the Band of Heathens take this concept a step further. Love is all around us if we pay attention. As the title track tells us, it’s in the “Simple Things”.
The recent pandemic made it impossible for the Band of Heathens to tour. They took to Zoom, Patreon, and such technological fixes to adapt, but their joy at the return to more normal times is evident. The pain in their voices on songs like “I Got the Time”, “Stormy Weather”, and “Heartless Year” (“I gotta laugh to hold back my tears / Crawling from a train wreck waiting out a heartless year / A heartless year, waiting out a heartless year) is negated by the brightness of their rocking guitar lines. They may have lived the blues but can hoot about it now.
The Band of Heathens are not Pollyannas. They know the light at the end of the tunnel may be a train headed in our direction, ready to run us over. The songs on Simple Things express the courage to keep going even when life seems dark. One doesn’t need to be naïve to appreciate our gifts and be grateful.
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