Review

The Laughing Hyenas used to talk a lot about how the blues were a crucial influence on their music, but it was on their final album, 1995's Hard Times, that they started to really walk it like they talked it. While the Stooges-meet-Bad Seeds sound of the band's earlier records was certainly a part of their approach here, the songwriting suggested the group was hearkening back to the same Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf sides that had influenced the Rolling Stones three decades before, and the Hyenas' brutal jackhammer assault gave way to a groove that still hit hard, but with a decidedly more graceful effect that wasn't entirely unlike that of Mick, Keith, and company. But if Hard Times sounded a bit like the Rolling Stones, the influence started at the dark, scary heart of Exile on Main Street and moved on into places where few bands would dare to go; "Hard Time Blues" and "Stay" are a good bit more musical than anything on Life of Crime, but their emotional impact is equally ruthless. Just as significantly, John Brannon's jeez-that-must-hurt screams gave way to a soulful bellow which suggested he could have been a better post-modern bluesman than Jon Spencer if he'd stuck to it, and Larissa Strickland's simple but full-bodied guitar work was never better than on this album. And if bassist Ron Sakowski and drummer Todd Swalla still aren't up to the genius of the Hyenas' old rhythm section, two years of woodshedding and road work had this band sounding like a real band again, tight and intuitive. Sadly, the Laughing Hyenas wouldn't last long enough to fully explore the potential of their newer, bluesier direction, but few acts from the Midwest punk underground ever reinvented themselves as powerfully and effectively as the Hyenas did here, and Hard Times found this troubled band going out on a high note. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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