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Ha Ha Tonka

Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South – 2009 (Bloodshot)

Reviewed by Andrew W. Griffin

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CDs by Ha Ha Tonka

Following up on 2007's "Buckle In the Bible Belt," Springfield, Mo.-based Ha Ha Tonka continue to tackle dark and decidedly Southern themes on their latest. These Show-Me State roots-rockers kick off the new record with Pendergast Machine.

The lyrics cover religious themes, political ideas and even literary and historical references. From Dostoevsky (Close Every Valve to Your Bleeding Heart) to Thoreau (Thoreau in the Woods) to earth-scorching Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman (The Horse in Motion). These guys didn't just fall off the turnip truck. Then there is the sadness of What Shepherd of these Hills about a lynching long ago. Diving straight into melancholy, Midwestern-styled poppiness, Ha Ha Tonka absolutely shines on Giant Strides. From the piano flourishes to the "oooohing" background vocals.

With lead singer Brian Roberts, you get an earnest vocalist whose range is mid-level and at times a bit trying to listen to. Drummer Lennon Bone, bassist Luke Long and guitarist Brett Anderson tightened since "Buckle" and seem more confident.

If you like the Drive-By Truckers, Kings of Leon or Son Volt, this may just be the album to get.