After a decade of not recording together, roots rock band The Last Hombres have reunited for Odd Fellows Rest. Noted for being the band that Levon Helm asked to join, The Last Hombres make what could be considered bar band music: bluesy guitars, that certain middle of the road tempo, sing along choruses. The thing that sets The Last Hombres apart and far above the fray is their outstanding musicianship. Each song is like a master class on how to play with technical excellence as well as passion and is paired with literate lyrics.
Odd Fellows Rest begins with horns from a New Orleans jazz funeral, supplied by the always-tight Hot 8 Brass Band. “The Wreckage” features the Hot 8, coupled with strong, forceful drumming by Tom Ryan (who replaced Helm, incidentally) and cool Hammond organ from Chris James. James’s keyboard work throughout Odd Fellows Rest is exemplary, a steady thread of excellence and quality that elevates these songs. His playing catches the ear just right and adds an unexpected layer.
The Hot 8 Brass Band adds an outstanding horn break to the low-slung groove of “Whisper.” The interplay of trombonist Edward Jackson and trumpeter Raymond Williams is sharp and smart. James’s Wurlitzer is almost punctuation here, and he gets in a fine solo.
“Dreams” is darkly whimsical gypsy music, evocative and a bit eerie. There’s more sweet brass work and nice angular guitar from Russ Seeger. “Unforgiven Man” is a travelogue of crimes of a condemned man (train robbing, shooting folks, stealing miners’ gold) delivered in testifying vocals over a woozy organ. The harmonies of “Gone Directly” are lovely, though the vocals seemed about a sixteenth note behind the music, making it oddly draggy.
The sprightly “Jenny Jones” about a “high plains drifter” and a “two-bit grifter” has a delightful brightness to the guitar. It feels like the perfect classic rock song. “Save The Farm” features gorgeous violin playing from Russ Seeger on a waltzy song that sounds a bit like The Grateful Dead’s “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Tooledoo,” especially on the chorus. “Doll’s Head” has a nice rambling guitar line and what is going to be my new battle cry (should I need one), “Off with the doll’s head, Mary.” If that’s not lyrical brilliance, I’m not sure what is.
The record closes with more funereal horns by The Hot 8 Brass Band on the elegiac “Streetlights.” Quiet and pleading, it has a neat descending trumpet line, and is just splendid.
The one issue that I had with Odd Fellows Rest was that the tempo of the majority songs is the same: that middle of the road, blues rock, bar band tempo. On the occasion that the tempo is different, it’s slower. It’s not the most exciting record, though musically, it’s fantastic. I admire their skill as musicians, but I just want a bit more variety.
Odd Fellows Rest was released on June 24 through Louisiana Red Hot Records.