Band of Heathens

REVIEW: The Band of Heathens “Simple Things”


The Band of Heathens has maintained a mantra of independence that few other artists have been able to sustain. The Austin-based group, centered around singer-songwriters Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist, has survived for two decades – thrived, really, with eight albums, an Austin City Limits appearance, and their own studio – while remaining unsigned and in control of their own musical fate. The band, now spread across the country, reassembled in Austin to record their ninth album, Simple Things, a collection of songs about grown-up life, deferred dreams, and love delayed but not denied.

Simple Things begins with the bouncy “Don’t Let the Darkness,” an organ-spiked look at the rough times we’ve all been through over the past three years as they recede in the rearview – “A lot closer to a little further away.” And, really, cautious optimism is what this record is all about. “Heartless Year” is a slice of heartland rock that’s not without skepticism – “I heard you never get dealt more than you can handle/But this might be it, you know we’ve had our doubts.” And guitar rocker “I Got the Time” portrays a musician’s ultimate frustration with the loneliest days of 2020 – “I’m all freed up, but I can’t get away.” But the title track, a string-infused ballad, recalls those simple pleasures that come from enforced downtime – “Drinking Cheerwine and laughing with my daughter/Dancing ‘round the backyard and losing track of time.”

The shifting priorities of adulthood, found in both seasoned bands and seasoned people, show up in how we define love. Once immediate and impulsive, that emotion both softens and lengthens with age. That’s best exemplified in the upbeat slice of Southern rock, “Damaged Goods,” with the band asking that pretty-eyed woman to take a risk – “Lay your heart on the line with me, love/For damaged goods, we make a pretty good pair.” The organ and piano-led rocker “Stormy Weather” also finds wisdom in a heart full of bumps and bruises – “It always comes out of nowhere/Love is funny, then it hurts like hell.” All those life lessons come together in the album’s closer, “All That Remains.” The song goes from parents to siblings to children and the marks that those folks leave in our lives – “With children of your own, you’ll know exactly what I mean/The circle turns eternally.” For The Band of Heathens (and for fans who have followed them all along the way), the eternality of youth – “”Cause as a child, time don’t cost anything” is gone, but it’s replaced by recognition and appreciation of what got us all here.

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “The Good Doctor” – a country-roadie kiss-off to the pandemic – “Been locked in the house for 52 weeks” – with cool harmonies and a sweet guitar solo.

Simple Things was produced by The Band of Heathens, engineered and mixed by Jim Vollentine and mastered by Dave McNair. All songs written by Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist (“Long Lost Son” written with Jeff Whitehead). The Band of Heathens is Jurdi (vocals, guitars, harmonica), Quist (vocals, guitars), Trevor Nealon (keyboards, vocals, string arrangement), Richard Millsap (drums, percussion, vocals) and Jesse Wilson (bass, vocals). Additional musicians include Danny Levin (strings, string arrangement) and Teresa James and Amber Woodhouse (background vocals).

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