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Less psycho, more billy 

The Reverend Horton Heat veers off the punk rock highway

The Reverend Horton Heat wants his fans to know that he's still the same psychobilly, even if his new album doesn't sound like it.

Sure, Laughin' and Cryin' with the Reverend Horton Heat is filled with honky tonk and rockabilly, but there's not much punk to be found on the record, which is a rather dramatic departure for the good reverend.

But, according to singer/guitarist Jim Heath, aka The Rev, things really haven't changed all that much.

"It leans country," Heath says of the Dallas trio's new album. "But I've been telling people we're not going country."

In fact, Heath insists, the album's honky tonk approach is really taking the band back to its roots, before it became identified with the psychobilly genre.

"When Reverend Horton Heat started in the '80s, we were trying to be an authentic rockabilly band," says Heath. "Instead of playing authentic songs from the '50s, I wrote songs I thought would fit in that genre."

Three songs dating back to those '80s beginnings — including the hopped-up album-opening "Drinkin' and Smokin' Cigarettes" — made their way on to Laughin' and Cryin'.

"It was such a good song, I wanted to hold it back until the time was just right," says Heath with a laugh. "I've got a lot of songs. I might have a few old ones hanging around for any record. It's funny, it's old friends and fans who remind me of them."

Songs with titles like "Oh God! Doesn't Work in Vegas," "Just Let Me Hold My Paycheck" and "Please Don't Take the Baby to the Liquor Store" aren't likely to be coming off Music Row anytime soon. Nor are admonitions like "Ain't No Saguaro in Texas" or tracks like "Death Metal Guys" that make the wildest of the old rockers look tame.

All of the above are delivered with a countrified sound that suits the overall subject matter of drinking, gambling and celebrating the Lone Star State. But there's also a looseness to the Horton Heat honky tonk approach that shakes off any notion of retro traditional country, swing or rockabilly.

"When I started out, I wanted to make a quietly country-sounding album," Heath says. "I don't know if I exactly got it ... I guess it's Reverend Horton Heat country."

Heath figures he'll be playing about six of the songs from Laughin' and Cryin' in his live sets this winter, along with a generous helping of fan favorites

"It changes it a little bit," he says of the resulting mix. "We still try to play what they want to hear. What people pay their ticket price to see us play, we try to play — our better ones, our most requested songs. You can't do them all every night. But we try."

Fans, Heath says, are critical for any artist who wants a long-lasting career, and he's quick to express his on-going appreciation for those who have made the Reverend Horton Heat what he is today.

"I'm still really tickled and really grateful with how well Reverend Horton Heat has done," Heath says. "We love to play music. As long as I feel like I love to play music and want to get better at singing, writing and playing music, we'll stick with it. The Reverend isn't going anywhere."

scene@csindy.com

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