Califone Heron King Blues

[Thrill Jockey; 2004]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: indie rock, southern rock
Others: Red Red Meat, Loftus, Beta Band

Califone has always been extremely impressive at creating a truly modern musical output from their rustic and old-fashioned guitar twang. 2001’s Roomsound, Califone’s most accomplished record to date, defined their musicianship accurately and passionately. The album’s emotional background protruded at the forefront of the record, creating a completely and utterly unconditional bond between the band and the listener. In fact, Roomsound is perhaps the most accomplished southern rock album in its entirety. In the last few years, Califone has been busy releasing record after record filled with rustic and rootsy ballads, including last year’s bipolar Quicksand: Cradlesnakes; which received lukewarm reception from fans and critics alike. Throughout the last two years, though, Califone has been unsuccessful at equaling or improving upon the accomplishments of Roomsound.

In 2004, Califone is back with another southern folk rock prototype album with the introduction of Heron King Blues. But unlike their previous efforts, this album has created an alliance with several musical styles that has engendered a stark delineation between present-day Califone and their original music formula. A slight but evident transition to electronica and world music has brightened and reshaped the stagnant and sluggish production of their previous efforts. Songs like "Trick Bird" and "Apple" have pilfered and appropriated from artists such as Mark Eitzel and Blur to reconstruct and revitalize their musical approach without compromising their relationship with the work they have produced in the past.

But Heron King Blues definitely signifies a transitional phase for the band. The album showcases the past musicianship of Califone at their best, with songs like opening track "Wingbone" and "Lion & Bee," but the album expands on the experimentalism that was hinted on the Declaration albums. For listeners that shun change and improvisation with new sound structures and musical practices, Heron King Blues may disappoint. For others who think that Califone required a much-needed facelift and reconstruction, this album will satisfy. If you disagree, one listen to the 15-minute title track will forever change your mind about Califone and their ability to create thought-provoking and refreshing music.

Califone’s Heron King Blues is a progressive departure from mediocrity. I believe Califone has recognized that their musical contribution in the last few years has been hovering slightly above unevenness. Quite similar to Blur and Mark Eitzel, Heron King Blues is a transitional phase, accepting that the future cannot happen without the past. Or for their sake, the past cannot be accepted without a glimpse into the future.

1. Wingbone
2. Trick bird
3. Sawtooth sung a cheater's song
4. Apple
5. Lion & bee
6. 2 sisters drunk on each other
7. Heron king blues
8. Outro