Metal Monday Album Review: Texas Hippie Coalition - High in the Saddle

I can't remember the last time I wrote a review of a record. It's not really my thing. Why make the exception for Texas Hippie Coalition's High in the Saddle, the sixth album from the Denison, TX red dirt metal rebels? THC is, by far, the most arguably lowbrow  of my favorites, and possibly the most stupidly awesome, or most awesomely stupid band that I've ever heard, and I've seen Hellyeah live. Why a review now, of a new record that isn't necessarily the band's strongest to date? After listening to it, I just couldn't help myself. The fact is, Texas Hippie Coalition have perfected their sound and image to such a level that it can be perceived as high camp, in as much as a bunch of rednecks fronted by a man named Big Dad Ritch can be camp, and that's in full effect on High in the Saddle.

It's impossible to tell for sure whether there's a wink and a nudge in THC's output and performance, although it seems undeniable. It seems unthinkable for someone to write lyrics like these, from "Dirty Finger":

Let me see your dirty finger in the air
Wave it around like you just don't care
Let me see your dirty finger in the air
Let 'em know that the party's right here

Without understanding that this message can't be delivered without a certain... knowingness. Having seen both THC and the aforementioned Hellyeah in concert, I can speak to the fact that Hellyeah take the business of rock deadly seriously, and deliver many impassioned speeches to that effect, between songs with names like "Alcohaulin' Ass" and "Drink, Drank, Drunk". Texas Hippie Coalition, on the other hand, have a completely different stage presence, making the performance of exaggerated, aggressive redneck rock into exactly that, performance. This is party music without pretension, delivered by a frontman that wants you to get in on the fun. It can't be that serious, then, can it? 

This is most musically evident on High in the Saddle on the standout track "Bring It Baby," which blends verses that curiously echo Orgy's cover of New Order's "Blue Monday" with explosive choruses, spotlighting Ritch's vocal range, which spans a deep, greasy baritone to a shrieking howl that can peel paint off walls. "Bring It Baby" is a love song that only this band could write, and it's interesting to look back on the band's back catalogue and see how many tracks are really quite romantic, underneath all the big bad outlaw posturing. 

High in the Saddle brings an unusual amount of slower-paced songs and outright ballads to the table. "Ride or Die" swells with piano, acoustic guitars and tender feelings on a track made-to-order for radio rock, while 90s nostalgia creeps over "Why Aren't You Listening", which addresses mental illness and religion while channeling Alice-in-Chains-y vibes. "Tongue Like a Devil" and "Stevie Nicks" both stomp a little slower while expounding on the wicked, witchy women that consistently beguile Big Dad Ritch, and form a significant part of his lyrical output. 

The track "BullsEye" blends the best of Bon Jovi's cowboy choruses from "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Blaze of Glory" into a gloriously deep-fried slab of southern metal. "Tell It From the Ground" teems with carefully rhymed tough-guy talk and the kind of heavy chugging familiar to fans of Peacemaker, their third, and in my opinion, best album. The album closer, "Blue Lights On," is a pure outlaw anthem that is strangely toothless, despite the subject matter. Similarly, "Moonshine," which opens the record, and is the album's first single, suffers from a similar fate. The subject matter and tone are right, but the song is almost too smooth in this case, too built for commercial airplay. 

Ultimately, the only overall sharp negative about this album is its unevenness. While each song is strong in its own right, as a whole, they don't quite gel. That said, many of these songs rival the unhinged hard rock hedonism that made Peacemaker such a (not-so-guilty) pleasure. What goes without saying here is that this band is, like illicit liquor brewed in secret on the outskirts of town, an acquired taste and not for the faint of heart.
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