I had not heard of Alex Brown & The Hepcats or their previous incarnation The Hellbound Hepcats before, so had no expectations when I first pressed play on their latest record Reckless Ways and was taken by how different they are to what I expected. By definition ‘different’ is unusual and not like others, and that certainly applies to this in a good way.
There’s an energy and spirit of rebellion running through each track which takes in styles as diverse as rockabilly, swing, country and wrap it up in sharp suits, sharper quiffs and a raw, honest attitude that honours the influence of the 1950s and pioneers like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Johnny Cash to name just a few.
The first two tracks really draw you in to their sound and lay the foundations for the rest of the album. Sounding like something that could soundtrack the next Tarantino movie, the titular Reckless Ways and Shadows are edgy and dangerous yet still manage to be soulful. The former has a spaghetti western/rockabilly vibe going on as lyrically it charts the story of growing up as an outsider and is effortlessly cool with just a hint of menace whilst Shadows has a darker blues feel to it with the stand-up bass twanging all the right notes and vocalist Alex Brown perfectly capturing the right mood.
Alex’s voice is a real highlight across the album, changing smoothly between the mix of styles without ever sounding out of place. It’s no surprise when you find out that he auditioned for the Canadian version of The Voice, getting all the judges to turn their chairs during the blind audition, and eventually finishing as a quarter finalist.
Twist Like Licorice follows and is a real throwback to the 1950s and Jerry Lee Lewis or Chuck Berry. It’s an old fashioned innocent track that captures the era of jive and the birth of rock n roll. Draw The Blinds is another track that pays homage to one of their influences, starting as it does like a Johnny Cash track before switching to a more upbeat, toe-tapping country twang.
Possibly my favourite track on the album is One More, a hard-living drinking song. It’s got a great tempo to it with a memorable sing-along chorus including my favourite line “one more shot of whisky, one more line of speed” and evokes images of dirty spit-and-sawdust types of bars. The next track, Take Me Back does exactly what the title suggests, taking you back to the 50s with a bluesy rock’n’roller of a tune incorporating piano and sax to add more depth to the music. Lyrically it’s about trying to get back with an ex and finishes with an emotional Alex pleading at the song’s end.
Another album highlight for me is penultimate track Think Twice, which has that country feel to it set to a more upbeat rockabilly sound that works better in practice than it sounds. It’s a great song about being a bit of a disaster in relationships and the music ebbs and flows just like relationships do. The album finishes with the energetic Fight Tonight, which has a bit of a gang mentality behind it. Drinking, fighting and being an outsider are all touched on lyrically and encapsulate what it feels like growing up a little different, which if you’re reading this then I’m sure is something that you’ve had to put up with at some point in your life.
It might not be punk in sound but this album more than makes up for it in attitude, which is what punk’s about really; musically it’s like a history lesson on the foundations of rock’n’roll and how it has evolved to what we listen to now. If you want a break from your pop-punk, ska, hardcore or whatever your sound is then take a chance with this. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.