The Band of Heathens

Top Hat Crown & the Clapmaster 's Son

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An easygoing Western drawl permeates the Band of Heathens' third studio effort, Top Hat Crown & the Clapmaster's Son, and if that title sounds like a musical shaggy-dog story spun by some wayward jam band, that doesn't feel all that far off from what the tunes deliver. However, Top Hat Crown is the work of a jam band that doesn't jam; the Band of Heathens' fusion of Texas roots rock, laid-back funk grooves, singer/songwriter storytelling, bluesy grit, and loosely tight instrumental prowess would be right at home at any number of nuevo-hippie gatherings, but they leave out the 20-minute instrumental breaks that would either make this more righteous or more tedious, depending on your point of view. Fronted by three Austin-based songwriters (Colin Brooks, Ed Jurdi, and Gordy Quist), the Band of Heathens aren't short on road-worn tales to spin or melodic hoops to jump through, and the musicians have both chops and enthusiasm to spare, while the vocalists clearly know how to communicate to an audience and sound both personable and professional at the same time. However, there isn't much in the way of a personality or an original point of view on Top Hat Crown; the vibe is generic Texas Singer/Songwriter from front to back, with enough clich├ęs to make Pat Green sound like Townes Van Zandt, and as friendly and well-meaning as the material is, it rings hollow, even the toothless protest numbers "Free Again" and "Hurricane." The Band of Heathens are the musical equivalent of that nice guy at the bar with one or two good stories he insists on telling over and over again, and Top Hat Crown & the Clapmaster's Son is the sound of that man wearing out his welcome, for all his good intentions.

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