High energy punk-infused rockabilly
The title of Reverend Horton Heat’s 2018 album Whole New Life refers partly to the life of the band, since drummer Arjuna “RJ” Contreras and pianist Matt Jordan joined longtime members Jim Heath and Jimbo Wallace. The two new members add a new spice and energy to the already well-established chemistry between Heath on vocals and guitar and Wallace’s bass playing. In over 30 years and 12 albums, Reverend Horton Heat has seen numerous lineup changes, each of which presents an opportunity for the band to grow and change. With Contreras and Jordan, Whole New Life takes a tour through American rockabilly with a distinctive Rev tinge to it, dancing around the border between frantic and energetic, sometimes falling on one side or the other.
The album begins full-force with the title track that feels like a sprint as Heath and company tear through a 12-bar blues and repetitive chanting of the mantra “I got a whole new life” with a breathless piano solo from Jordan and guitar solo from Heath culminating after only two and a half long minutes in Heath’s excited cheer. They follow “Whole New Life” with the bluesy shuffle “Hog Tyin’ Woman,” nearly matching the energy of the previous song but replacing the mania with a sense of mystery and a lighter touch on the guitar. Between “Hog Tyin’ Woman” and “Whole New Life,” Reverend Horton Heat show they can traverse genres effortlessly.
Many of the songs on this album follow a similar format, heavily influenced by blues and rockabilly but with a playful edginess that isn’t typical in either genre. However, the songs are also remarkably heavy with the band seemingly playing their instruments as loud as hard as they can at all times. “Got It in My Pocket” features dynamic ranges between very loud and very, very loud. The heavy driving percussion and Heath’s frequent wordless howls grow wearisome after several unrelenting songs. A welcome reprive comes at “Don’t Let Go of Me,” the album’s fifth song, as the band lays back for much of the song, which, instead of losing the energy of the album, offers refreshing contrast from which to listen to the rest of the album.
The album concludes with a spirited rendition of Elvis’ “Viva Las Vegas,” faithful to the mood of the original but with Reverend Horton Heat’s edge. It seems appropriate to conclude the Whole New Life with a fresh cover in homage to their musical predecessors whom Reverend Horton Heat vigorously embrace throughout the album even, and perhaps especially, while bringing their energetic and almost manic sound to the classic sound.