D.C. alt-country quintet the Highballers embraces its vices on its new release, "Soft Music and Hard Liquor". The album reflects the world's seedier side, with such songs as "Doing Time in Pennsylvania", "I Didn't Mean to Get Drunk Last Night", and "I Take Pride in My Drinking" touting a rough-and-tumble lifestyle.
Musically, the group churns out one catchy Americana/rockabilly tune after another. Album opener "Juneen" tells a whirlwind tale of a dysfunctional relationship through an unrelenting beat and twangy guitars. The most captivating part of the Highballers' sonic texture is Victoria Patchen, who adds harmony and backup vocals behind frontman Kendall Jackson's twangy croon.
Patchen's harmonies, especially on "The Price You Pay" and "Doing Time in Pennsylvania", are reminiscent of Neko Case's work with the New Pornographers. Her standout moment is on the ballad "Live to Let You Down", which turns into a heartbreaking duet with her plaintive turn at lead vocals.
But apart from a few such softer moments, most of the songs have a sense of humor. "She Ain't No Stranger" breaks the news that a man's wife has been unfaithful, while "A Cowgirl Who Understands" tenderly and humorously describes a cross-dressing cowboy. The Highballers' subject matter, in addition to its high-energy songs, goes a long way toward making "Soft Music and Hard Liquor" such a fun listen.
-- Catherine P. Lewis