August 30, 2004

Tom Heinl "With Or Without Me"

I've never denied the fact that I'm a native-born Texas redneck. Why deny something that gives me so much pride? Sure, I may be cosmopolitan in many regards, a small-town boy is what I'll always be, and I don't mind that one bit. In the past year or two, I've taken my pride a little further, and I've rediscovered the goodness that is classic country music. Anything that's from 1982 or older is generally really good stuff--and stuff that's both funny and powerful is a double-blessing.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover this fellow named Tom Heinl. I saw this man live, and let me tell you, folks--he's amazing and he's amazingly funny. See, on stage, it's just him, his rocking chair, his favorite lamp, a stereo and a painting, and he sings to tapes of some of the most traditional country songs you'll hear this side of 1975. His deep baritone voice sounds an awful lot like Johnny Cash and his sense of humor takes on Mojo Nixon at full speed--and wins. (If anything, his rich, whiskey-soaked voice sounds an awful lot like the Beat Farmer's late genius, Country Dick Montana.) Throw in the fact that the audience was getting rowdy with him and his occasional readings from his fifth-grade journal were even funnier than his songs, Heinl quickly proved himself to be a really difficult act to follow.

What might look like a novelty-style act is far from it, as his latest album With or Without Me so deftly proves. Initially, I thought that the humor of watching him onstage would not shine through, and on first listen, the songs didn't hit me in the same kind of way that they did on stage--but oh, man, when that second listen came around, Heinl's genius really struck me in the crotch--in a good way! From laments about the heartbreak he had when his wife brought home another man for a three-way in "Three-Way" ("Quietly, I turn the bedroom knob/Guess the porn star inside me just quit his job") to getting drunk before work in "Half Day Vacation" ("One last beer, I put some ketchup in there/That's a poor man's bloody mary") and a spoof of Tom T. Hall's classic "I Love," there's plenty of fun stuff on With Or Without Me. Sure, some of the stuff's juvenile, but it's fun in a juvenile way.

Don't worry about the novelty aspect of his music, because in concert he performs several new songs, all of which are of the same high standard as the songs found on With Or Without Me. The only downside to the album is that it's too short, it doesn't include these great songs! (There's a karaoke version of the album tacked at the end, so you can sing along if you want to, too!) Heinl's a man whose star has only begun to shine, and though he may make you laugh, he's a serious (and seriously funny) entertainer who demands your attention--and your funny bone!

--Joseph Kyle

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