Category Archives: Creative Writing

The Ozark’s Worst Kept Secret – Ha Ha Tonka – Death of a Decade

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For a few years now Ha Ha Tonka has kind of been our little Ozarkian secret. Not that we were trying desperately to keep it that way, in fact I for one have been starting blazes wherever I could hoping to watch the wild fire burn. It’s been a privilege knowing these guys since 2004 when they were still learning how to walk as a band, then under the name of Amsterband, and it’s hard to imagine it has been 7 years, a name change, a record label, and 3 albums since that day I first saw them play.

Photo by Rafe Preston

Playing a Rowdy show in Warrensburg, MO – April 2006

Finally it appears all my hard work setting fires has paid off… 🙂 haha, ok so I don’t have much to do with it as their music speaks for itself and if you happen to catch these guys live you’ll be hooked as soon as your foot starts stompin’ and you can’t help but sing along as the guys are belting out the chorus. After two previous album releases I’ve seen the fan base grow a little each time, but Death of a Decade seems to be grabbing the attention of music junkies nationwide as their album showed up on the Billboard 200 at #185 and the Billboard Heatseekers Chart at #4 the week it was released. So it’s pretty safe to say it’s time to share our secret with the world. If you asked me, it’s about damn time!

Before I talk about Death of a Decade let me tell you what I liked about the two previous albums (Buckle in the Bible Belt and Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South.)

Click Album Cover to go to it’s Amazon Page.

Buckle in the Bible Belt
BitBB was their first release under the new label Bloodshot Records. It was actually self-released before the signing and was recorded in an old church in Union, MO. This album is by far their rowdiest, most foot-stompin’ album to date and they did their best to make it sound like their live set. It’s raw and fluff free. Just four guys making some music. They still play a lot of song off this album such as crowd favorites, “St. Nick on the Fourth in a Fervor”, “Caney Mountain”, “Up Nights”, and “Hangman.”

Click Album Cover to go to it’s Amazon Page

Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South
NSotNS had this haunting, timeless feeling to it. You can tell this album was kind of experimental for them. They did a lot more playing around in the studio with different sounds which becomes very apparent in the song “What Shepherds of These Hills?!” Though I think of this album as their softer album, that doesn’t mean they don’t get rowdy. The songs on this album seem to have a lot of ups and downs. They’re melodic and putting you to sleep at one point and the next thing you know you’re being awakened by some gritty guitar and hollering lyrics. I for one really loved the movements in these songs. It kept them interesting and gave them depth.

Click Album Cover to go to it’s Amazon Page

Death of a Decade
So that gets us to the third album released through Bloodshot Records, Death of a Decade. I can easily say I think this is the best album they’ve produced. It shows just how much they’ve matured and grown into the their sound, which is hard to place into one specific genre. This album I feel goes in a more bluegrassy-rock direction than the last two because of the heavy influence of that little 8-stringed instrument known as the mandolin. Brett Anderson drives many of the songs on this album with some great mandolin riffs that are quite catchy by themselves. Luke Long’s bass vocals have improved and were much more noticeable, making the four part harmonies really stand out as a whole. Brian Roberts’ writing just keeps improving too. I love the lyrics and the unique way Brian delivers them. He has some really catchy lines on this album. Lennon Bone makes the songs come alive with his creative drumming and I love that he’s not afraid to stop playing and let the songs breathe for a bit. I can tell this album was very well thought out, yet it still manages to keep that simplistic feel to it; it’s not over produced. From start to finish you can’t help but bob your head and tap your foot. See them live and it’s a whole different story. Bring your dancing shoes.

I’d like to go on and continue the review of each song, but in case I’m boring you have a look at the just released video for “Usual Suspects.”

Ha Ha Tonka, “Usual Suspects” from Bloodshot Records on Vimeo.

Photo by Rafe Preston

The boys playing a high energy set to end their tour – April 2011

The songs are listed in album order. The number associated with the track is the order of my favorites, 1 being favorite.
Usual Suspects (9):
This song starts the album off giving you a sense of what’s to come. Starting with that driving mandolin and an infectious beat that gets your blood pumping and your legs moving. It also introduces you to some of the clever lyrics you’ll be hearing along the way, “100% I am made of cotton. I shrink when I sink in hot water. That little girl, so hot she’s scalding. Ain’t gonna be nothing left of me.” Usual Suspects is a great opener to the album that rocks you from start to finish and leaves you eager to hear more.

Westward Bound (10): This song has a coming of age feel to it as Robert’s belts out, “I realize the youth is wasted on the young. Oh, I know I’ve wasted more than some…Oh, I know that now my wasted days are done.” Toned down a bit from the soaring Usual Suspects this medium rocker shines when the anthem like chanting of “Na Na’s (or maybe it’s La La’s)” comes in while Robert’s sings, “Hard times, we left ’em back east. And the future moves under our feet.” You can almost see Roberts smiling as he sings this song and it leaves you with a hopeful feeling about the future of this band.

Made Example Of (3): This is one of my favorite tunes and I think one of the catchier songs on the album. It’s another track that’s really driven by the mandolin and the drums that kick it off just after the brief intro. The mandolin riffs are almost eerie on this song and it consists of some of my favorite drumming and it’s great example of that breathing I was saying Bone lets the songs have. It has one of the simplest statements in it, but it’s so deep at the same time, “If you don’t change where you’re going, you’re gonna end up right where you’re headed.” You gotta do something if you expect a change.

Photo by Rafe Preston

IHOP with Bnizzle and Bone – Febuary 2005

Jesusita (5): This song starts out with some simple guitar plucking and 4 part harmonies with Long’s bass vocals really standing out. The guys all pleading, “Heaven help us now!” Then it kicks it up a notch when all the instruments come in and everyone starts chanting some “OHOooOOos.” Lyrically this song is a bit dumbed down from Roberts usual deep and rhythmic writing, but you can’t help repeating with them as they sing that haunting chant over and over.

Lonely Fortunes (4): And back again is that sweet sweet mandolin sound. This time it’s taking more of a back seat as the kick drum really drives this song. When the mandolin is in the forefront it’s just such a pleasing and catchy sound. Lyrically, this is one of my favorite songs, “We’re never gonna have much. Myself I take such as a compliment. We can blame it on the circumstances. Oh at least we took the chances we had to.” There are some more really great parts to sing along with when the guys start chanting their “La Dee Da’s.”

Hide it Well (1): I’ve read several reviews that have talked about a lull in the middle of the album and some naming this song as the one that kills the mood. I’d have to completely disagree with those claims. This is my absolute favorite track on the album. Though it may be slow it has some of the best harmonies on the whole album and some really great guitar picking. Not to mention the lyrics just flow like butter off the tongue. Every song doesn’t need to raise my heart rate to keep me intrigued and I think this is a welcomed break in the middle of the album. There’s no hiding it here. I love this song. “Honey my heart is a heavy one. I need to rest a spell, for you it was I fell. Nobody wants to act like they care too much. I’m gonna hide it well.”

Photo by Rafe Preston

Brett Singing @ Off Broadway – Opening for Murder by Death – March 2010

Dead Man’s Hand (11): I’m usually a pretty big fan of Anderson’s lead vocal songs, but this one just didn’t do much for me. It’s by no means bad, there just doesn’t seem to be much about it that really stands out to me and makes me seek it out to listen again. I still don’t pass it up if I’m listening to the album though. I do really like the opening, but it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere from there and the song seems a bit repeated. I do love the lyrics, “We got drunk off a whiskey blend. They’re all the same when you can’t stand.” I feel like I’m really bashing this song, but I really don’t mean to. Anderson’s high vocals do shine and there is some great harmonizing. Just cause it’s my least favorite on the album doesn’t make it bad, it’s still a great song.

Problem Solver (7): This hard rockin’ song brings back memories of Buckle in the Bible Belt and turns the volume back up. It starts off with some great electric guitar plucking and then some really cool clapping kicks in. This song features some of Long’s best vocals and if you have issues controlling your bowels careful on this one cause those bass vocals are liable to loosen something up. The song takes a little instrumental break in the middle before finishing out strong just the way it started. There are some really clever lyrics in this one hidden in there with that repeating chorus. “I had a little momentary lapse of self-awareness, she could care less. Yeah, I got problems that I’m working out. I know enough to know I don’t know myself yet.”

Death of a Decade (8): There is something really epic about the sound of this song. The drums start out so simple and build up wonderfully. Then towards the end there are some great gang vocals that just make the build up seem so timeless. It’s hard for me to put this song so far down on the list, but that just goes to show how many great songs are on this album. With the Death of a Decade could come the raise of something new, time to make a change. “I was just about to change. Man, I gotta change my ways.”

Photo by Rafe Preston

Brian and Brett stompin’ their boots to a song @ Record Bar – 2011

No Great Harm (2): This song really just has it all. Bone laid down some amazing drums, the mandolin is in full swing, and the harmonies are top notch. It’s a got a great build to it. Starting off pretty mellow and getting into a pretty full fledged sing-a-long at the end. I listened to this album probably 3 times before I even recognized how amazing this track was. It’s kind of a sleeper buried at the end of the album between the title track and the great closer. I’m really glad I came around to this song as it’s one of my very favorites now. The beginning is quite sad, but the wording is perfect. “Carry me softly, six men strong. On their shoulders, a box of bones.”

The Humorist (6): Knowing Roberts I’m sure this song is a bit of a tribute to Missouri writer and fan of Ha Ha Tonka, Mark Twain. Ok, so maybe he’s not a fan, but I’m sure he would have been if he had heard this song. This was another one that took several listens to really appreciate. I’m pretty sure it was the chanting towards the end that really won me over. “Tell me how deep that river is. Tell me how deep that river is. Say my name. Say my name. Everybody yell Mark Twain. Ain’t it entertaining, isn’t it appealing, the thought of something’s always much better than the feeling.” This electric guitar driven song was a great way to end the album.

After putting out 3 very different albums it’s hard to tell where Ha Ha Tonka music may be a year from now, but I can only imagine wherever it is, it will be fresh, exciting, and in my CD player for months. Whatever you do, don’t keep these guys a secret.

Important Ha Ha Tonka Links:
Homepage
iTunes
Facebook
Myspace
Last.fm
YouTube
Twitter

She is…

She is full.
Full of love.
Full of beauty.
Full of a great sense of duty.

Full of life.
Full of passion.
Full of art in every fashion.
But there is no room for me.

She could tease.
She could please.
She could bring me to my knees.
But she keeps me standing here.

She is free.
Free to live.
Free to sing.
Free to kill with every sting.

She could kiss.
She could hiss.
She could give me so much bliss.
But our love she just lets go.

The Light of My World

 

Image by BaylieMarie

I sat in the front row and you were way in back.
I showed up late most days just to see your face.
It was the best part of my day; the ten seconds from the door to my seat,
When your eyes met mine and just for a time it was only you and me.
If you didn’t know it then, I’m sure you know it now.
I love you.
Some fifty years later and your eyes sparkle still.
Same as they did on the night of our kiss,
When we bailed on the prom and jumped on ol’ Route 66.

We were somewhere west of Santa Fe,
I’d stopped to pump gas into that rusted Bel Air.
With the grace of a dancer you slid to the back.
You knew I was watching, as I tried not to stare.
My back to the car, I finally couldn’t take it,
So I turned around and tapped on the glass.
You came to the window with a smile.
I was grinnin’ one back so hard it hurt,
Silently mesmerized by those beautiful eyes.
The spell was lifted as the window came down.
I put my hands to your cheeks as I bent to meet your eyes,
Which seemed to be giving light to the moon.
You licked those perfect lips and fluttered those long lashes.
I’m no Einstein, but I ain’t stupid.
One hand on your neck the other upon your chin
I swooped in and met those lips with mine.

For the longest time I wished it would’ve been better.
Not the kiss, the kiss was more than I could have asked for,
But the gas station wasn’t the most romantic setting.
Looking back now, I see there is nothing more real,
And nothing more romantic than that night.
My beat up car, the smell of the gas,
That little station lit by the moon.
Or was it your eyes.
Every time I filled up the car,
Every time you smelled that scent,
We were reminded of that magical night that faded straight into day.

I never wanted that kiss to end,
But we were driving with a purpose.
So I reluctantly pulled away,
A final kiss for both your eyelids.
I paid for the gas and grabbed some cokes,
Only to return to find you sleeping.
I had never seen you look so beautiful.
You mumbled something as I started the car.
I knew it was,
“I love you.”
But you claimed you said,
“Drive slow, you.”

If it was the latter I didn’t listen.
We had to hurry to make it by the morning.
I drank your coke too, but I really didn’t need them.
Just knowing your life was in my hands
Was enough to keep me going.
It was a long race, me against the dark.
I turned off the radio, careful not to wake you.
Left alone in my thoughts.
Left alone in your silence.
I learned a lot from you that night.
You didn’t need to be awake for me to see you could trust me.
The silence said it loud and clear.

You turned and faced me.
Eyes shut, but smiling.
Sweet dreams of me I suppose or maybe I’m just dreaming.
You or the road, my eyes couldn’t decide.
I caught them fixed one too many times on you.
With the gentlest of touch I ran my fingers through your hair,
And spoke softly till your head began to rise.
Sorry I had to wake you,
But I needed to share the thrill and excitement before we came to our senses.

We had left on a whim.
It was stupid and reckless, but we were young and in love,
Which seemed to make it okay.
It didn’t matter then,
‘Cause for all we knew there was only an us,
And a long road ahead.
The air was still, early in the morning.
Our headlights were all that could be seen.
So I turned them off to scare you and instead you looked in awe.
The moonlight was ethereal.
So many shadows, yet so much light.
An oxymoron that is hard to describe.
Mouths open, eyes wide, and I flipped the beams back on.
We turned to each other laughing, oh how ridiculous we must have looked.

Lucky for us we were the only ones for miles.
Maybe I’m just exaggerating, but at the time it seemed the world was ours.
Only you and me.
A bond of hands.
A bond of hearts.
Rubber to asphalt.
The darkness slowly drifting away.
The last few hours were a blur.
We exchanged tales of our past.
You recalled your first kiss in the 5th grade.
I reluctantly confessed my jealousy.
You kissed me quick to let me know I was the only one to feel those lips now.
You wanted more.
I definitely wanted more.
It took all my strength to keep pressing on.
Passing place after place I could’ve pulled over,
But we made do with our fingers intertwined.
We had plenty of time for making love in the years to come.

That night was a bonding of souls.
A meshing of personalities.
A foundation laid for a relationship that would last forever.
Something the night itself couldn’t do
As the glow of morning started shining through.
Right on time we made one last stop.
Gas station again, same old trick and I kissed you through the window of my car.
This time I returned with orange juice and some Little Debbies.

Back in the car and back on the road with Flagstaff to our back we headed north.
What was left of the night started fading fast,
So the first chance I got we pulled off the road.
A scenic overlook where the Bel Air slowed.
You grabbed the drinks and treats.
I grabbed the blanket covering the back seats.
Finally it was time to relax.
We laid on the hood with civilization to our backs.
We sipped.
We munched.
And we said our goodbyes to the night.

For a fool hearted plan, it was executed with expert precision.
Not a moment too soon that sliver of sun came crawling into view.
We watched as it rose on those big ol’ canyons,
Turning the sky into an array of colors.
Bringing to life the land in a way the moon could never do.
Your eyes opened wide.
Those golden rays of light beaming from you.
I knew it then that you brightened the world.
At least you did mine and you never ceased to bring that light into my life.

The years have passed faster than it seemed.
We lived, we loved, we dreamed.
Our kids have grown.
Our kids have kids.
Life moved on, but we didn’t miss a thing.
I tried so hard to preserve that night.
It was our spark, the match that lit the fire.
The fire that still burns in each of us.
I never could sell that damn car.
So after the kids moved out I spent most of my time
Meticulously restoring that Rusty Bel,
Hoping one day she’d ring like the beauty she never was.
Sure I finally got it looking good
And we spent most of our retirement cruising around,
But it was today that it truly shined
As we relived that adventure through the night.

So here we are.
One last time together, looking over those massive canyons.
One last sunrise.
One last hope that all this can bring back those memories.
It’s been a long night.
Especially for this old man.
Hard on my body.
Hard on my mind.
Watching you as I tell this tale.
Trying to convince myself I saw you smile.
It’s been a tough road to travel.
Not just what was left of ol’ Route 66.
I mean the one that took from you all those moments we had created,
But both roads have lead us to this point.
And now the time has finally come for us to watch the night disappear.
It made me wonder though, what will the sun do when you aren’t here.

Sunken Still

I was hoping to have this poem I’ve been working on done by now, but I’m still not finished…so here’s an older one I’ll post up in the mean time. Week #3 Photos will be posted later too!

Sunken still this night drags on.
Just like the last it’s come and gone.
Leaving me.
Deceiving me.
I sleep, but get no rest.
Under covers I try my best.

Put to bed my restless eyes.
Behind these lids they’re in disguise.
Wound tight; these ropes don’t hold.
My mind sets sail as my thoughts unfold.

Sunken still this life drags on.
Just like the rest I feel I’m a pawn.
I wish I knew more.
Wish I could do more.
I’m alive, but I’m a mess.
Afraid to dream I guess.

So I’ll let loose my fears.
It will bring me to tears
But it’s time I cried myself to sleep.
God knows I tire of counting sheep.

Lennon: The Auricular Artist

This is a writing for my friend Lennon Bone who has a great blog about life/music/and anything and everything that happens to fall into his brain. He is the drummer of a local Ozarkian band known as Ha Ha Tonka and has been a good friend throughout the years. I’ve been watching his band continue to grow and he’s taken on several side projects that are turning out quite nicely: Varsity Club Sunshine Coach / Son of Jerry / The Swayback Gents

Yesterday he blogged about an experiment he’s doing that involves both him as the musician/auricular artist and you/me as the listener to create a piece of art. He’s made a short audio clip about a minute long and all he asks is that you listen and take 5-10 minutes to write your thoughts/reactions to what you hear. If you’d like to participate go read his post from yesterday and give him a comment on your thoughts. I’d ask if you are going to do that go HERE or the big picture up top now so you’re thoughts aren’t influenced by what I’m about to write next.

Lennon’s Post

My thoughts on Auricular Art Pt. 1:

The sound of silence
Sharp and piercing it’s interrupted
Thud
Dull and repetitive
Opposing
Forward and Backward
Highs and Lows
Cut, cut, cut

Waiting

Deathly quiet.
Except the occasional semi engine braking down the interstate.
Pitch black.
Except the sliver of dull moon light coming through the blinds.
So still and calm I have to reassure myself that I’m still alive.
Thump-thump, thump-thump. Check.
Waiting, waiting, waiting,
But for what..