Southern rock will never be defined by the mandolin. Yet for the Ozark rockers known as Ha Ha Tonka, the soundtrack for Death of a Decade is served with a high-pitched twang. The high, tight strum of Brett Anderson’s riff on the opening song “Usual Suspects” cuts through the air with minimal lag. The mandolin, more prominent here than on previous Ha Ha Tonka albums, compliments the band’s broad harmonies that are dressed in the Sunday best. The lyrics are well developed and subtly smart.
Death is a fine album overall, but it never seems to reach its full potential after the opening volley. Songs like “Made Example Of,” with its rowdy reminder that “If you don’t change where you’re going, you’re gonna end up right where you’re headed,” ring true in my ear, but I never completely connected to the album.
Too many songs seem to get off on the wrong foot. The clunky intros never seem to get my foot stomping on the floor to the beat I know this band can bring. I wanted to think the pace would pick up, yet the middle album interlude “Hide It Well” delivers tremendous picking that unfortunately serves more to dull the impact of the overall energy.
Ha Ha Tonka seems willing to carry the cross for the Ozark sound, maybe one day replicating what the Drive-By Truckers have done for the South. They can make Missouri the next North Carolina ala the Avett Brothers. Yet, this burden is too much to carry too soon. Death of a Decade has some hidden gems that are worth your listen, representing a chapter of a book that has plenty left to tell.
Death of a Decade is out now on Bloodshot Records.