Saturday, January 21, 2006

Rev. Horton Heat - We Three Kings: Christmas Favorites

A few months ago during the Christmas season of 2005, I purchased two new Christmas releases at my local Borders store with similar sounds but way, WAY different approaches. The first was Brian Setzer's "Dig That Crazy Christmas". The second album is the one you see above.

For those of you not versed in the ways of the good Rev. Heat, here's the backstory:

Formed in 1985 in Dallas, Texas, the original members were Jim "Reverend Horton" Heath on guitar, Bobby Baranowski on drums, and "Swingin'" Jack Barton on upright bass. This manic trio began touring with a wild stage show that set them apart from other rockabilly groups like the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Imbibing plenty of Jagermeisters during performances (let's see Setzer do that onstage!), the band's antics - mixed with their incredibly hilarious lyrics and the sound of country, rockabilly, big band, and psychobilly - made them underground favorites.

Shortly before they secured their recording contract at SubPop (the granddaddy of alternative record labels), Barton and Baranowski left the group. They were replaced by current band member Jimbo Wallace on upright bass and Patrick "Taz" Bentley on drums.

Between 1991 and 1994, the band released two studio albums for SubPop: "Smoke Em If You Got Them" and "Full Custom Gospel Sounds Of". Shortly before signing with Interscope Records in 1994, the band lost another drummer when Bentley left and Scott "Chernobyl" Churilla arrived.

Their next album was a SubPop/Interscope co-production entitled "Liquor In The Front", a radical departure from the standard format. Dark and edgy, it was a turning point for the band. This was followed by "It's Martini Time" in 1996 and "Space Heater" in 1998, each album just a wee bit more darker.

Each album sold moderately well but not enough for the pencil pushers at Interscope. After their ceremonial "best of" album "Holy Roller" was released in 1998, the band signed a one album deal with indie label Time Bomb Recordings for their 2000 album "Spend The Night In The Box". After one album with Artemis Records - 2002's "Lucky 7", the right Rev. and company signed with Yep Roc in 2004 and released "Revival".

That brings us up to date and I think I've used up my link quota for the year...

If you're thinking "this CD is just like the Setzer album - minus the big band feel", you're wrong. Setzer wouldn't get this raw and unpolished even if he had a bunch of Stray Cats around. This is pure Texas country & western twang mixed liberally with psychobilly all wrapped around Christmas music! It's a bronkin' bareback ride definitely worth taking!

My favorites include "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" (complete with a 1960s TV "Batman" intro!), "Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy", and their stripped down version of Roy Orbison's "Pretty Paper" is plain haunting.

However, their instrumental of the title track "We Three Kings" wins the standout track of the CD. Evoking memories of the Doors and Link Wray, this track with its driving beat, changing tempos, and fantastic solos just sweeps you up and doesn't let you go until it's over - brilliant music.

Rev. Horton Heat continues to tour, record, and fly under the radar of mainstream success. Their loyal fans (including me) keep awaiting for their next release or gig at a local club. You can visit their official website to check out where they're playing next, purchase an official Rev. Horton Heat T-shirt, and even purchase their CDs - yes, including this one for an amazingly low $10! (Stop me before I link again!!)

Thanks Reverend for a great Christmas CD... can I get an amen?

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


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