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There have always been misconceptions surrounding Reverend Horton Heat. For starters, there is no preacher frontman — it's just a name. Then there's the whole genre classification issue. Despite the popularity of the band's awesomely unhinged '90s cut "Psychobilly Freakout," the trio doesn't really fit under the banner or feel a musical kinship with psychobilly's European-influenced acts. "I know it's a cliché, but we're a rock 'n' roll band that has a '50s rockabilly influence," bandleader Jim Heath explains by phone from a tour stop in Omaha. "But come to our show and you'll think we're a punk rock band."
Well, a punk rock band that plays traditional country — sort of. The trio's freshly minted album, Laughin' & Cryin' with Reverend Horton Heat, which dropped September 1, infuses the band's speedy, vintage Sun Records sound with a healthy does of vintage honky-tonk that often employs the 4/4 time "Ray Price shuffle."
But these aren't tears-in-your-beer numbers. Heath cleverly finds the humor in even the saddest, most pathetic scenarios and souls. Song titles such as "Oh God Doesn't Work in Vegas," "Death Metal Guys," and "Please Don't Take the Baby to the Liquor Store" should give you a decent idea about the subject matter. "We started out wanting to make a classic-sounding country album, and there's a lot of that going on," Heath says. "But the other thing was to have the songs be funny — or at least not too serious. In general, it's us doing our funny country stuff."
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When Reverend Horton Heat performs this Monday at the Culture Room, the trio will unveil new material — between five and seven numbers. Then they'll unleash the songs that have made them underground darlings since their excellent 1992 Sub Pop debut, Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em. "Fans expect to hear some old songs when we play," Heath says. "It's a blessing and curse of having a long career. You feel obligated, to a degree, to play the old stuff. But you still have to buckle down and play new stuff."
Onstage, Heath's a certified wild man. He sings about drinking and drugging and probably has done his share of both. But back home, in a suburb of Dallas, Heath dutifully plays Mr. Mom — and sings a song you definitely won't hear performed Monday. "I love being a dad, and it's the most important job I'll ever have," he says. "I'll have plans to work on a hot rod or motorcycle, but it's 'No, sorry, have to take a little girl to a birthday party.'"
Heath laughs and adds, "I do a lot of stuff that's not very manly. Like listen to the musical Annie and sing the song 'Tomorrow.'"