TK and The Holy Know-Nothings
The Incredible Heat Machine LP
(Mama Bird Recording Company)
It isn’t always easy for this writer to get into country music (there often has to be a “alt-country” plank in the floor to make it easier to enter on), but it didn’t take me long to find my way to relishing the music on The Incredible Heat Machine – TK and The Holy Know Nothings’ sophomore full-length album. From note one, the grand work laid down on Arguably OK has clearly and undeniably been built upon on this album; the country music sounds are confident and sound much tighter than they were before. Singer Taylor Kingman lines up, stares down and unloads his lyrics with a greater conviction than he has ever expressed before and the combination of those two presentations wins listeners with an immediacy that is almost comical; simply said, might might not have the first blessed clue who this band is or know anything about them, but they’ll WANT to know everything that it’s possible to learn about this group before the A-side’s opening cut ends. It’s magical, like that.
After “Frankenstein” opens the A-side of The Incredible Heat Machine and establishes most of the precedents with which the album plays, the power of this running never wanes – not even once – as it progresses. The chicken pickin’ which opens “Serenity Prayer” seamlessly transitions into a fantastic country-rock workout (one of my favorite lyrics all year is, “We’re on a twelve-step program, one two-step at a time,” and it appears in “Serenity Prayer”) before some truly inspired folk-soul strains overtake both “Hell Of A Time” and “I Don’t Need Anybody”.
In the mid-playing of the side, the heart and soul of The Incredible Heat Machine really gets exposed. “Hell Of A Time” gently warms listeners’ hearts with a winning take of woe and redemption surrounded by fragile instruments combines with a lyric sheet which might be one of the best numbers Hank Williams forgot to write (check out lines like, “I’ve been killing angels, I’ve been killing time” and convince yourself that your heart didn’t melt a little, reader), and then “I Don’t Need Anybody” turns a similar formula into a good, old-fashioned power ballad which was tailor-made to slow-dance to. On one hand, it could be argued that such gentility could easily be phoned in and might just be proof that TK and the Holy Know-Nothings are just well-refined writers but, on the other hand, it’s hard to not make it to the end of “I Don’t Need Anybody” and not be a little misty, and the “Preprise” of the title track takes just one minute to crack the dam and help listeners begin to wail before the side closes and they rush to flip the record over and keep the music playing.
…And, when the proper “The Incredible Heat Machine” rolls out to open The Incredible Heat Machine‘s B-side, the song seems intent upon thanking listeners for coming along – as it provides the first truly GREAT rock song in the album’s play. Right from the top, listeners of a particular age will hear a flawless recreation of what drew them to rock n’ roll in the first place: elements of the Blues, of danger, of hellfire and damnation and the prospect of being asked to sign on the devil’s dotted line all appear vividly and, even better, make it sound like a party. Here, Kingman sings like a great lost cause just “built to fade away,” and the band capture a heart and soul which screams “Seventies rock n’ roll” to back him up. It’s a genuine, infernal thing of beauty. Of course, the track which follows it cuts a striking contrast to that aforementioned hellfire, (the cut’s title is “I Lost My Beer” and fairly drips of the sadness of such a situation) which is more than a little problematic, but the running bounces right back with a great (and upbeat) lament that a man can only find on the morning after with “The Bottom Of The Bottle”.
The band’s energy on this second side is clearly boundless, even when they sit right down to cry again through “Laid Down & Cried”at the realization that everything has gone all wrong again, and the worry gets a little more real when the band actually stays down afterward and through “She Wonders” There, the hard times and broken hearts endure as Kingman finds a better and more injured tone with which to present his broken heart before changing up the energy which has powered the band to this point through this running and using that change to close the album down with “Just The Right Amount.”There, Kingman does genuinely sound as though having worked through the running of this album has left him a changed man as he can’t quite leave the energy which informed the sound behind, but has worn out his welcome with it too. There is no spontaneous eruption of fresh energy in the final moments of “Just The Right Amount” – it is just the song which runs out the clock as everyone left standing in the song’s world seems to need crutches to do so, and the horns introduced in those last minutes seem to exist strictly for some kind of pathetic fallacy. It’s not a spectacular end, but it is certainly an affecting one, as those who have run front-to-back with Heat Machine seem to leave with new eyes with which to see.
Simply said, the unfamiliar will leave changed by the listening experience of The Incredible Heat Machine, and certainly for the better; however the catch is that the standard TK and The Holy Know-Nothings have set with The Incredible Heat Machine is incredibly high. Whatever the band ultimately returns with as a follow-up to this album, it had better be fuckin’ hot – if it wants to have a hope of surpassing this effort. [Bill Adams]
TK and The Holy Know-Nothings’ The Incredible Heat Machine LP is out now on Mama Bird Recording Co. Buy it here on Amazon.