Showing posts with label The Kentucky Headhunters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Kentucky Headhunters. Show all posts

Nov 2, 2021

Album Review / The Kentucky Headhunters / …That’s a Fact, Jack

By Bobby Peacock

I honestly did not expect to be reviewing a Kentucky Headhunters album in 2021. Usually by the time rockers hit their 60s, they mellow out, phone it in, retire, or die. Not so with the Headhunters, who continue to find new ways to keep their Southern rock stylings fresh after all this time with …That’s a Fact, Jack.

What strikes me the most about this album is the variety of moods. Songs like "Gonna Be Alright,” "Watercolors in the Rain,” and the title track have various degrees of gloom to them, but all three times the gloom is lightened by a message that it's not too late. Even if it's raining in your town, the sun is still shining somewhere, promises the first of these three; "Watercolors in the Rain" emphasizes the desire to leave a good example for those who follow, and "That's a Fact Jack" offers a message to cross sociopolitical boundaries in favor of unity. The Headhunters haven't historically been the types to get topical (the excellent "Crazy Jim" off the last album being a noteworthy exception), but their execution is both poetic and hopeful.

"Watercolors" in particular pops with a softer than usual vocal turn from Richard, combined with an entire verse accompanied by just bass and finger snaps. This is all the more surprising in contrast to his harder-edged snarl on "That's a Fact Jack,” extremely well-suited to lines like "Since man has walked on this earth / Greed has held his hand.” I could easily see this song slipping into a Sturgill Simpson album.

Richard Young's son, John Fred, brings in his bandmates in Black Stone Cherry to add a more modern songwriting edge to "How Could I.” While the lyrics look simple on paper, the turns of phrase and derivations from verse-chorus structure pop out of the contemporary cadence in telling of a guy who messed things up and wants his relationship back to the way it was. The fact that the song has a lively groove inspired by "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" doesn't hurt, either.

"Susannah" almost seems like a shout-out to the Tom Wopat song of the same name in its subject matter of a traveling man and his lonely wife. Unlike that song, this one gives us more detail about how they met, and about what keeps the man on the road (his love of music). It's a great little character sketch the kind of which has been missing from country for so long. Also on the more conventionally country-rock side is "We Belong Together.” Greg Martin skillfully uses some iv chords, always a favorite of mine, to lead us into this understated little winner. Sometimes a good thing works out despite the differences in ingredients -- the rebellious man and the wise woman being a common example. I especially like the line "Never make me believe this is wrong.

That song finds Doug expanding his range with some well-placed falsetto, which returns for good measure on "Lonely Too Long.” From the title, it's not hard to tell what it's about (finding the perfect soulmate), and the lyrics are the least original on this set ("climb any mountain / swim the deep blue sea"). But there's no denying this song's groove. "Heart and Soul" moves back to the rockabilly side of things with a great four on the floor beat and no shortage of guitar. The lyrical content is more nuanced than you'd expect: the narrator's had an argument with his wife and is embarrassed because everyone knows... and worse, he knows that it was all over nothing but a passing glance at an ex. (As Clay Walker said, "I ain't saying that lookin's a crime.”)

For the first time since "Dry Land Fish,” drummer Fred Young gets to sing too. "Cup of Tea" has a chill and quirky vibe that brings to mind Jimmy Buffett. Its use of Cockney rhyming slang ("what's the lemon and lime") is extremely inspired in its description of that perfect woman. Let me say that again: a Southern rock-Buffett hybrid with Cockney rhyming slang. I told you these guys haven't run out of ideas. He returns to give a spacey blues-rock read of "Cheap Tequila.” Now, covering a song that's been done by such legends as Rick Derringer and Johnny Winter is a high bar to clear, but their take on this well-worn yet well-aged tale of "wash[ing] yourself away" shows that they're far from out of ideas when it comes to dusting off cover songs, either.

Next is "Shotgun Effie.” They originally cut this back in the 1970s when they were known as Itchy Brother. It's also the first time we get to hear Greg on lead vocals since then, and I'm surprised he didn't get a crack sooner. He's got a nicely rough-edged shout well-suited for a simple but effective look at a feisty woman (the Youngs' grandmother, in fact). Between that greasy slide guitar and the driving tempo, there's little change from the original 1974 cut -- but it's such a winner that almost nothing needed to be changed.

With just about anyone else, closing with a novelty song about a family fighting at Christmastime would be a tired old joke at best, and trolling at worst. But lyrics like "You know it wouldn't be Christmas without black eyes /  There's too many cooks in the kitchen / And too many kinfolks bitchin’,” combined with the laid-back and self-deprecating tone, make it a winner. This seems like a family that takes its brawls in stride, and perhaps there's a deeper message to that. We can't get along all of the time, but if we can roll with the punches and enjoy ourselves regardless, then what's wrong with that?

I've followed the Headhunters long enough to gain an ever-growing respect for their consistently high quality. Because they've been together for so long, they know how to make their sounds and influences work together. Even better, they still manage to do it in a way that yields new and interesting results on every subsequent album, and they still sound as energetic as they did on Pickin' on Nashville. The fact that so many songs on this album made me say "Huh, I've never heard them do that before" is a testament to their seemingly undying talent and passion.

I used star ratings back when I still wrote for Roughstock, so I'll do the same here. This one gets a full 5/5.

Mar 31, 2021

Country Music Was Better in the 90s (Sam Hunt Parody)

 Country Music Was Better in the 90s

(Parody of Sam Hunt's "Breaking Up Was Easy in the 90s")

Man, oh man, oh man

Bartender looked at me like, "I'd love to turn that jukebox down"

Someone was playing that modern sound

Something about a damn cell phone

Singin' with a twang but it's just pretend

Funny how it's two times as boring and half as witty

Why did someone pay money for a song this shitty?

The singer must have a nice face

Cause he can't sing worth a damn without the studio tricks and the auto-tune

But hey, what you gon' do?


I'm sick of hearin' those snap beats, they just make me groan

Country's more than just some handsome cheekbones

They call it country music but that just reminds me

Country music was better in the '90s

I miss the steel guitar, truth and chords of three

Tired of hearin' pickup trucks and hey baby

Sam and Kane and Luke and them can kiss my hiney

Cause, country music was better in the '90s

Back then we listened to "Dumas Walker" and "Down at the Twist and Shout"

And "Chattahoochee," and "He Ain't Worth Missing" and "Love Lessons"

Sometimes the lyrics were fun and sometimes they were deep

But these days "vibe" is the only thing

And they wouldn't have a fiddle or steel guitar playin'

Or sing about some grown-up shit

Yeah I get sick of it all, I miss real drawling

Miss real country women and men


I'm sick of hearin' those snap beats, they just make me groan

Country's more than a TikTok on your phone

They call it country music but that just reminds me

Country music was better in the '90s

I miss the steel guitar, truth and chords of three

Tired of hearin' pickup trucks and hey baby

Florida-Georgia Line and them can kiss my hiney

Cause, country music was better in the '90s


Modern country ain't got modern hearts breaking

It's just a product, money for the taking

And I 'bout had enough hearing them living a country lie

I'm sick of hearin' those snap beats, they just make me groan

Country's more than just some handsome cheekbones

They call it country music but that just reminds me

Country music was better in the '90s

I miss the steel guitar, truth and chords of three

Tired of hearin' pickup trucks and hey baby

Thomas and Dustin and them can kiss my hiney

Cause, country music was better in the '90s

Oct 6, 2020

The Kentucky Headhunters: Top 10 Songs

By Bobby “Ten Pound Hammer” Peacock

The first album I ever owned was Pickin' on Nashville by the Kentucky Headhunters. After a long time having forgotten about them outside that album, a chance encounter with "Louisianna CoCo" on the radio in 2000 inspired me to go back and buy all of their other albums to that point. Through this, I found that they had made lots of mostly good music in that time frame. Then I kept finding new albums of theirs at Walmart, and was thrilled to find that they were still making good music. I keep up with their music to this day, and have even had some correspondence with them (they even helped me improve their Wikipedia article!). In short, if you want to know anything about a fine Southern rock band that most people only know for one song, then I'm your man. By far the hardest part was narrowing this list down to ten!

10. Lonely Nights
One of the true tests of a rock group is their ability to carry a ballad. And the Headhunters prove more than able on this one. Lyrics like "Lord have mercy on this broken heart / And forgive her for tearing me apart" may seem direct on paper, but Doug Phelps sings them with absolute conviction. And the instrumentation -- including not only the powerful rhythm section provided by Fred Young and Anthony Kenney, but also the horns and Hammond organ prominent on the corresponding album -- just enhance the mood even more.

9. My Daddy Was a Milkman

I think I'm partial to this song because it was the endcap to Pickin' on Nashville and always gave me that sense of finality. But it's also a damn fine song in its own right. A mostly straightforward guitar groove underlines a story you've probably heard before -- the husband is off to war, so the wife cheats on him with the milkman. But then two more details twist the story even further: the husband stayed in Vietnam with a woman he dated there, while the narrator, the sole heir to his dad's milk company, is now fabulously wealthy. It's a testament to their unconventional and humorous storytelling.

8. Chug-a-Lug
I've been a longtime fan of Roger Miller, and apparently so have they. Their take keeps all of the goofy charm of his tales of underage drinking -- even the scatting! -- and adds to it their distinct country-rock energy. They also have the advantage of actually being old enough to convey the story credibly, but still feisty enough to keep you interested and entertained. The Heads were no strangers to cover songs, and this song -- itself the centerpiece of a covers album -- is a testament to their ear for covers that are distinct and enjoyable.

7. Louisianna CoCo
As I mentioned in the intro, I heard this song once on the radio late at night and couldn't believe what I had just heard -- the Kentucky Headhunters? With a new song? I was immediately so taken by the novelty that I rushed to buy the album at Kmart, and I'm glad I did. Though unknown to me at the time, this was rhythm guitarist Richard Young's first turn on lead vocals, and he makes an exceptional first impression. His low growl and Doug's high howl combine with a maddeningly catchy guitar riff and a few unusual references (it's not often that you hear marijuana called "left-handed cigarettes") to make this far, far more than just your average "rock song about a hot girl."

6. Dry-Land Fish
As part of my "Louisianna CoCo"-driven reintroduction, I found this gem on the very same album. The only song to feature drummer Dale Gribble... I mean, Fred Young on lead vocals, it matches his goofy delivery perfectly to its laid-back, pseudo-psychedelic tales of incense, Led Zeppelin albums, and magic mushrooms. No, not those kind. The kind sung about in this song are morels, a perfectly edible strain and a childhood favorite. And this song is every bit as rootsy and tasty as the mushroom in question. 

5. Diane
Yet another off-kilter story. You'd think it'd end when he reveals that Diane's dumped him for another man, but instead, the story continues with the narrator being robbed (which fails because Diane took everything he had), and goes even further with him contemplating suicide in his living room. The dark, moody groove, especially the ringing end chords and even a gong, are just further proof of their ability to find something different and run with it. This is probably one of their furthest ventures away from country-rock, but they more than have the chops to pull it off.

4. Everyday People
The opening track on the aforementioned Soul finds the Headhunters with their only featured vocalist to date (outside two full-on collab albums with Chuck Berry pianist Johnnie Johnson); namely, Louisville-based R&B singer Robbie Bartlett. Open-ended but timely observations like "The workin' man just can't win / No one's on his side" are sung by Doug with unbridled passion and sincerity, and Bartlett matches her own soulful, gritty tone flawlessly to the content. Some fine drumming and a layer of Hammond organ certainly don't hurt in elevating this fine working-man anthem.

3. Dumas Walker
Even if you don't know who the eponymous Dumas Walker was (for the record, a marbles champion who owned a convenience store that the Headhunters frequented in their youth), it's that distinct detail that adds to the often-used country trope of just having a good time with your friends. And it's probably for that reason that this one is such a cornerstone of '90s country playlists in spite of its low chart peak -- it's just a damn good country party song with an infectious energy that still holds up 30+ years later. Also, I've actually had Ski (a local brand of citrus-flavored pop), and just like the Headhunters themselves, it's a local favorite that I want more to discover.

2. Crazy Jim
Another in the ever-increasing number of songs sung by Richard, this one tells of an eccentric man who was not loved by the community, but still "was from a land where they never learned to hate". One of his eccentricities was handing out rocks to people as a reminder of being rich in spirit, not in money. The portrayal of this unusual yet angelic character is touching enough on its own, but when you realize that "Crazy Jim" was Richard and Fred Young's own father, who died shortly before the album's release, that's when the absolute emotion in Richard's grainy voice really hits you.

1. Great Acoustics
I always cap these lists off with odd picks, don't I? But there's just something about this song that seems to hit all of the band's strengths at once. A gentle memorable melody with a soaring chorus. Martin's impeccably sharp, bluesy guitar tone. The warmer, yet no less gritty soft end of Doug's vocal range. Subtle flourishes of mandolin and Hammond organ that slot seamlessly into the punchy Southern rock surroundings. But best of all is the revelation that the narrator's woman is cheating on him with another woman, and it's treated no differently than if it were just another man. It's just that one little extra touch that turns this song from merely great to outstanding, and makes this the kind of song that I would love to see find a wider audience.

Honorable mentions: Dixie Lullaby, Jukebox Full of Blues, Big Mexican Dinner, Skip a Rope, Jessico, Take These Chains from My Heart, Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line... I could go on


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