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Fully Invested: Band of Heathens, November 4 at the Redstone Room PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 02 November 2010 07:54

Band of Heathens

The opening track of the Band of Heathens’ One Foot in the Ether is classic electric alt-country, but a listener unfamiliar with the Texas quintet would be wise to withhold judgment or expectations. “L.A. County Blues” casually segues into soft harmonies recalling the 1970s in “Say,” and then “Shine a Light” digs heavily into soulful, organ-heavy gospel.

That diversity of styles befits a group with three primary songwriters who each play multiple instruments, but it also reflects an understanding of the essential similarities shared by different branches of roots music.

“I’ve never seen blues music or soul music being very far away from country music or bluegrass,” singer/songwriter Ed Jurdi said in a recent phone interview promoting the Band of Heathens’ November 4 performance at the Redstone Room. “The approach is slightly different in terms of who’s singing the song and what they sound like.”

Songwriters Jurdi, Gordy Quist, and Colin Brooks – with bassist Seth Whitney and drummer John Chipman – are celebrating the fifth anniversary of their band this month, yet rather than settling on a sound, Band of Heathens has embraced a stylistic sloppiness.

A PopMatters.com review said One Foot in the Ether – released late last year – “builds on the unfocused, organic rawness of the [band’s studio] debut into something as electrifying as an early Black Crowes album. ... There’s some Drive-By Truckers, a bit of Little Feat, and even some Flying Burrito Brothers, but what’s interesting is how the band so effortlessly takes these influences and twists them to their advantages.”

If “unfocused, organic rawness” sounds like a backhanded compliment, Jurdi doesn’t take it as one. He said his favorite bands and records “didn’t have coherence. ... I’ve always enjoyed a lot of different styles of music, and I feel really comfortable listening to those styles butted up against each other.”

In Band of Heathens, he said, “the unifying glue and the thread was the group singing and the harmonies.” Beyond that, the members don’t want their albums or shows to be “overly neat ... and I think we’re able to accomplish that naturally.”

So the Waits-ian clank and haunted soul of “Golden Calf” leads into “What’s This World,” whose easy, polished charm recalls John Hiatt.

The lack of a clear aesthetic matches the band’s messy, somewhat confused origins. The group grew out of solo sets by Jurdi, Quist, Brooks, and another singer/songwriter at Momo’s in Austin, Texas. They began sitting in with one another, and then began performing together under the Good Time Supper Club banner.

Even with his own solo stuff, Jurdi said, he was shooting for “a band where there’s a lot of singing, a lot of group singing and a lot of interplay and interchange. Kind of taking the emphasis off having the front man kind of thing.”

And that was exactly what the Good Time Supper Club offered. From the outset, Jurdi said, “it was all pretty there. ... Everyone’s voice sounds really different and fits into the spots you need the voices to fit into to make something like that work. I don’t think any of us had ever had a situation where that was accessible.”

Jurdi said the name was appropriate to the vibe of the shows, with lots of talking and beer. “It really was just a hang,” he said. “It literally could have almost taken place in someone’s living room, where someone was having a potluck dinner and there just happened to be a band playing.”

In Thanksgiving 2005, the band was billed as the Heathens – nobody in the band knows how that happened, Jurdi said – and the name (or a variation thereon) stuck. The members were still doing solo stuff in 2006, and that year as a group they recorded Live from Momo’s as a memento – “just so we can have it for ourselves.”

But Jurdi said that “you can really never know what the potential of something is until you are able to invest in it fully,” and Band of Heathens became a full-time outfit in 2007. In 2009, the group was featured on Austin City Limits.

Even though the band has three primary writers, all of the songs are co-written, and the sonic variety is a function of collectively varied taste as well as distinct songwriting voices.

“The band sounds like the band because of the inputs into it,” Jurdi said. “A song usually doesn’t sound anything like it sounds when it comes out of whoever came up with the original idea. It goes fully into the churning process, and everybody adds their flavor and their two cents to it. There’s almost never a song that comes in that doesn’t undergo some sort of metamorphosis. ...

“We’re all going to take responsibility with these songs.”

Band of Heathens will perform on Thursday, November 4, at the Redstone Room (129 Main Street in Davenport). The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and the bill also includes Jim the Mule. Tickets are $10 and available from RedstoneRoom.com.

For more information on Band of Heathens, visit BandOfHeathens.com.

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