The Kentucky HeadHunters burst onto the scene in 1989 with “Pickin’ On Nashville.”
Although the album produced several hit singles on country radio, the band has always had roots in rock from its original formation as Itchy Brother in 1968.
Now the band returns to its roots with “Dixie Lullabies,” its first album since 2005’s “Big Boss Man.” The album, released in 2011, is the first HeadHunters project recorded in the legendary “Practice House,” the band’s rehearsal space since the ’60s.
The cover will raise one main question for fans — where is original singer Ricky Phelps? After the HeadHunters’ original lineup had been apart for a few years, guitarist/vocalist Richard Young reached out to the Phelps’ brothers, Ricky and Doug. At the end of the day, it was Doug who came back, taking over vocal duties as well as continuing as the band’s bass player.
“Dixie Lullaby” kicks off the album. There’s nothing country about it. It’s straight-forward southern rock. The band’s sound is fresh, yet pleasingly familiar.
“Boones Farm Boogie” continues in the HeadHunters’ tradition of groovy shuffles, such as the band’s popular cover of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky.”
For fans on the country side, songs like “Great Acoustics” and “Tumblin’ Roses” have that mix of rock and country that can be found on songs such as “Rock ‘N’ Roll Angel” from the debut album.
In an interview I conducted with Richard Young in 2011, Young said the band had a chance in the rock world with 1989’s “My Daddy Was a Milkman,” but the band’s record label at the time was wanting the band to be labeled as country, and therefore put the song to rest.
The album is filled with great melodies, such as “In a Perfect World,” “Sugar Daddy,” and “Little Angel,” among others.
“Little Miss Blues Breaker” is the song that Young says sounds like Itchy Brother did in the ’60s. Sang by Young, its heavy, unapologetic blues rock is what makes up much of the band’s sound.
Although it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite song from this album, “Ain’t That a Shame” has to be one of the highlights. It combines all of the classic elements of the HeadHunters into one song. It’s not one of the album’s singles, but it definitely deserves a listen or five.
The album closes with “Recollection Blues,” a calm, soulful number serving as the perfect cool down for this album.
The Kentucky HeadHunters have been together for more than 30 years, and although “Pickin’ On Nashville” is still considered by some, to be its most essential album,
“Dixie Lullabies” is a must-have for any fan of the band or southern rock in general. The band sounds great, the practice house sounds great and the songs sound great.
It’s rumored that the band is working on its next project. If it sounds half as good as “Dixie Lullabies,” you can count me in.
“Dixie Lullabies” is available in stores and online at the group’s website.