Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
Ha Ha Tonka has been rocking since 2005. Before they changed their name in 2007, they were known as Amsterband. They are from West Plains, Mo, which is also the hometown of the late country legend Porter Wagoner. The name Ha Ha Tonka, which is quite unusual, is the name of a state park in Missouri. If it is anything like the music, it must be a very serene and peaceful place.
Heart Shaped Mountain is a cross between 80s English pop and The Travelling Wilburys. They integrate both styles and genres very well and not necessarily in the same song. Race To The Bottom (Track 1) is definitely more aligned with English pop and Everything (Track 2) has the feel and texture of a Wilbury song. It may not seem like these two things belong together, but they work really well in tandem like peanut butter and chocolate. Both elements are great on their own, but together, they rise to an entirely new level.
This seems to be a bit of a departure from the stylings of Ha Ha Tonka’s other label mates on Bloodshot. If you consider acts such as The Yawpers, Robbie Fulks, The Bottle Rockets, Whitey Morgan, and Wayne Hancock, Ha Ha Tonka is considerably lighter and a little more on the poppy side. It is actually a very nice counterbalance to the other talent and may expose Ha Ha Tonka’s fans to some of the more “country” acts on the label. Country is not a dirty word.
Although Heart-Shaped Mountain leans a little bit to the pop side, it is still a very solid album. Pop is not a dirty word either. Good music such as this really crosses a few genres and is really just rock and roll. So I will not throw out any more labels. There are quite a few songs on this album that have serious hit potential. In addition to the two aforementioned songs, Telluride (Track 10) and Arkansas (Track 8) are very airplay friendly and should stir up quite a buzz.
Add this one to the ever growing list of great releases in 2017 already. It is going to be an expensive year. Buy often and support your friendly, hard working musicians.