Back in the day of hair metal, grunge and teen pop, music as we know it seemed to be on its way to non-existence. Long hair and flannel shirts made you cool, listening to Guns 'N Roses got you a date to the dance on Friday night and nobody seemed to 'understand' anyone else. Whatever happened to the days of straight-up, stripped down, in-your-face rock'n'roll?
Down in the heart of Dallas, Texas lived a man by the name of Jim Heath. Jim began his career as a solo act and a struggling musician living above a bar by day and using his guitar and voice as his only weapon at night. In the mid-to-late 1980s Heath recruited a band of a stand-up bass player and drummer, which changed several times until 1989 when Heath recruited Jimbo Wallace on bass and Patrick 'Taz' Bentley on drums.
The group, now called 'Reverend Horton Heat' after a name given to Heath to use at gigs, released Smoke 'em If You Got 'em on Sub Pop (of Nirvana fame) in 1991. Not only did it give music a breath of fresh air, but showed people how to rock and have a good time doing it for the first time since Stray Cats.
The low-budget, down and dirty production was something un-heard of at a time where arena rock ruled the charts. The album's opener, "Bullet" works as a rockin' instrumental with reverb-riddin' guitar that sounds like Link Wray on cocaine, while tracks like "It's a Dark Day" and "D for Dangerous" show an artisticly dark side of the Rev's music he's rarely returned to since.
"Psychobilly Freakout" melts your face and bitch-slaps you with its ear-bleeding solos and The Rev's screaming of "it's a psychobilly freakout!." Jimbo Wallace's upright slapping and Taz Bentley's rockabilly-infused punk/rock drumming skills only add to the effect in the biggest way; as a matter of fact, even Beavis and Butthead themselves approved of this song and its chaotic classic MTV video.
"I'm Mad," "Bad Reputation," "Put It to Me Straight" and "Baby, You Know Who" are nothing short of classic RevHo material, while "Eat Steak," a humorous country ditty which goes into detail about the slaughterhouse yard, gives the album a nice breath of fresh air yet almost fits nowhere on the disc (the track was used in an advertising campaign for Boston Market in 2005), but that only makes for classic Reverend.
The classic "Marijuana," a jungle-beat ode to the reefer, changes pace several times throughout its five-minute running time, containing in-your-face fret-melting picking that still sounds fresh almost 16 years later, while the album's closer, "Love Whip" takes the album down a few notches with its R&B harmonica/horn/piano-laced melody and sexual lyrics -- it's my least favorite RevHo track, though.
All in all, killer musicianship, great guitar work, rockabilly slap bass that would make Lee Rocker proud and smooth drum work. Although not the best Rev album, a great debut. This is the album that brought rockabilly back once and for all, and for that, I score it a six out of ten.
If you're looking for a first album to get into this band, i suggest picking up Full Custom Gospel Sounds or It's Martini Time. However, chances are, this will be be in your collection in a matter of months.
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