It seemed only appropriate to crack a bottle of Missouri-based O’Fallon Brewing’s Pumpkin Beer, while giving a listen to Lessons, Ha Ha Tonka’s 4th release from Bloodshot Records. The beer poured to a sunset red, with the rich, but not overwhelming hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. The quality of beers from O’Fallon’s has always been top-notch, a consistent striving with each new beer. Like all good craft beers, they are much less craft than art, those artists supremely focused on continually striving to be better.
Settling is a curse to an artist. There must be that tension in their art that belies searching and exploring. A great artist is never settled, always hungry, and by definition growing. That growth is the measure of an artist. There is a sense to the new album from Missouri Indie artists Ha Ha Tonka that they are writing music they want to write. Rather than pander to marketing, mimicry or bar taunts, the band takes on that journey with Lessons.
The songs feel at once familiar and new. Cold Forgiver, track 10 renders a familiar Beatles tone but carries a fresh immediacy. Lead singer Brian Roberts’ voice is at once familiar and fresh, and capable of heartfelt resignation over class distinctions, as with American Ambitions. And this is a gentler album than Usual Suspects. It feels more roots, like recollecting familiar ground after a long journey. Usual Suspects felt like that start of that journey. Lessons feels like a reflection, a thoughtful sojourn along that road.
This not just another bar band with catchy roots riffs. Ha Ha Tonka has matured through four continually strengthening albums to Lessons. It’s proof that they have staying power beyond a handful of recycled themes. No recycling here, just solid roots with a vision and exploration all their own that leaves me wanting more. Just glad to be along for the ride. Think I’ll crack open another O’Fallon’s and give Lessons another spin…
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