Somewhere around Space Heater, new Reverend Horton Heat stopped mattering. Jim Heath could still write a decent song, but at a rate of one or two per album—if that. A best-of CD, a Christmas album and his side project, jazz-and-blues cover act Reverend Organdrum, only reinforced the appearance that he'd run out of ideas for his 20-something-year-old band. Let's face it: His skirt-chasing, booze-loving, guitar hotshot persona has long been a work uniform, and the aging rockabilly dudes who pack his concerts aren't exactly clamoring to hear new songs.
But Laughin' & Cryin', a collection of purportedly funny and/or tragic songs that is his first non-holiday CD since 2004's Revival, shows Heath still wants to play new tunes, even if all he can think to do is tone down the guitar, crack wise about using his expanding gut as a "Beer Holder" and make the dorky gripe that Hollywood misrepresents the Lone Star State's cacti because there "Ain't No Saguaro in Texas." Elsewhere, "Death Metal Guys " is a tongue-in-cheek manifesto for the pearl-snap-and-pompadour set, and "Rural Point of View" belittles gun- and pickup-hating liberals who don't understand where their organic meals come from.
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Sure, half the songs are just embarrassing jokes sung over smirking rockabilly-by-numbers. But the rest are catchy and fun enough to catch on as concert staples—better than expected for a new Reverend album.