Ha Ha Tonka: “Usual Suspects”
Over the course of a calendar, KUT features 260 songs of the day from a wide range of artists, each one catching our collective ear. For the last two weeks of the year, we’ll be highlighting the best songs of the day from 2011, featuring big names, new discoveries, Studio 1A exclusives, and some tunes that might have gotten lost in the shuffle in the past twelve months.
Ha Ha Tonka is a state park in the Ozarks of Missouri, but it’s also the inspiration behind the band that shares the same name. Originally called Amsterband, the quartet changed their name to Ha Ha Tonka as an ode to their birthplace, and there’s a lot of geography wrapped up in their music.
Ha Ha Tonka debuted in 2007, and since the beginning their music has been built around the story-songs of songwriter Brian Roberts. He weaves tales of larger-than-life characters, some real, some imagined, but all of them with a great deal of personality. This year’s Death Of A Decade, the band’s third album to date, takes the music out of the woods a bit with some modern production, but Ha Ha Tonka is still rooted in folk and country styles that they grew up listening to in Missouri. The Austin Chronicle states that “Death Of A Decade sounds more like the birth of an important band.”
That album kicks off with “Usual Suspects,” a rollicking number with punk-like fervor that prominently features mandolin. They make the small-town picture bigger-than-life, resulting in a rousing chorus that sounds great both on record and in the live setting.