Guitar, drums, stand-up bass. Amped-up rockabilly songs about the joys and perils of getting drunk, being drunk and women encountered along the way. In the past 50 or so years, about 465,000 bands have tackled this tried-but-true formula and not many can claim to have nailed it as well as the Reverend Horton Heat. Moreover, 10 years into his recording career, the right Reverend (Jim Heath to his mom) and his smoking band show no signs of tiring of it. His sixth and latest album, Spend a Night in the Box, is infectious, raucous and vital enough to floor not only regular and neo-traditionalists but also those who don't know Eddie Cochran from Johnnie Cochrane.
The music may be steeped in retro, but it never really seems old, thanks in large part to the Reverend's pitch-perfect sense of humor. A good example is the title track, which cleverly likens a relationship to a certain Paul Newman movie about bucking authority: "Stayed up all night and watched Cool Hand Luke/ He ate 50 eggs and didn't even puke/ My flappin' tongue has sealed my fate/ What we've got is a failure to communicate." The album's real coup de grace, though, is the instant classic "Sue Jack Daniels" (RealAudio excerpt) an amphetamine-fast, tongue-in-cheek tirade against the evils of whiskey ("I'm gonna sue Jack Daniels for hittin' me/ With the trunk of a big old live oak tree"). Also of note are "The Bedroom Again" (RealAudio excerpt), a heartwarming plea for post-divorce sex that finds the Reverend in crooning mode, and "Big D Boogie Woogie," a peppy ode to the band's native Dallas.
One reason why these simple, no-frills songs never sound like put-ons or throwaways is that the musicianship is flawless. The Reverend would be considered a guitar god if he didn't make it all sound so damn easy, while bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla are every bit his equal as musicians. No, there's nothing particularly new or innovative about any Reverend Horton Heat album, and Spend a Night in the Box isn't trying to reinvent the wheel. The album is more like a well-done summer action movie (they used to exist). Gloriously smart and stupid at the same time, it aims straight for your viscera and connects in a nice and loud, altogether punishing kind of way. They sure don't make 'em like that, anymore, do they?