Yankton Sothern has been keeping his powder dry, and he’s putting his faith in himself and his new bandmates.
The unassuming songwriter found not only a new voice but an all-new place on stage as the leader Heartpunch in 2010. After years as a guitarist in other bands, he formed Heartpunch as a vehicle for his songwriting after a series of acoustic demos began taking on a life of their own.
The songs came first and foremost, and the debut album from Heartpunch featured a number of stellar hired guns from in and around Sothern’s hometown of Springfield, Missouri. But when it came to playing live shows and hitting the road, Sothern needed kindred spirits. He found them in two longtime friends, Justin and Jason Kearbey. The Kearbeys are brothers who have honed their chops for the past decade as two-thirds of the raw rock trio Thee Fine Lines.
With the pieces in place, Heartpunch has taken a match to Sothern’s dry powder and turned it into explosive rock music. The band’s new album, “Who Else Knows,” is the result of full-fledged collaboration between all three band members, with Sothern’s songs still at the center of the project.
And at the core of those songs you’ll find love won, love lost, and more than a little skepticism. They’re the kind of sturdy songs that could stand up as acoustic tunes but benefit immensely from the full-band treatment. Sothern counts Ryan Adams and Elliot Smith as influences, and he and Heartpunch have the same respect for the art form and audience as those two craftsmen.
There are no solos, no ornate overdubs and nary a wasted beat from start to finish on “Who Else Knows.” What you hear on the album is what you’ll hear on stage. There’s no fooling the listener – and no need to, either. The members of Heartpunch know honesty has always been the key ingredient in a great rock record.
The title track layers wounded pride over a pulsing bass line and simmering organ work. “All I Wanted” features stark vocal harmonies on a bed of driving guitar lines. One of the fan favorites, “My Dear,” is a snarling strut declaring independence from a love that’s left scars that haven’t quite healed. Another stand-out track is “Never See You Again,” which finds Sothern lamenting a lost love’s blind faith – something that’s just a part of life in the Ozarks, where holier-than-thou types like to hold signs declaring “The Party Ends in Hell” on street corners in the bar district.
“I didn’t notice it until after we finished the record, but there are hints of growing up in the Bible Belt and not being one of the kids who drank the Kool-Aid,” Sothern says.
The album was produced by Lou Whitney, one of the best-kept musical secrets of the Ozarks, who has recording ties to the Bottle Rockets, Bel Airs, Robbie Fulks and Syd Straw, among hundreds of others. With Whitney at the knobs and guests like Joe Terry (Dave Alvin, The Skeletons) on keys to help round out the core trio’s sound, the album represents a more mature effort for Sothern and for Heartpunch.
In some ways, it’s the end of a long process – but in so many others, it’s really just the starting point.
- Michael Brothers
released 27 April 2013
Recorded and Produced by Lou Whitney, Springfield, MO
Mastered by Randy Kling, Nashville, TN