Like most complex organisms, bands have a distinct evolutionary cycle. Buckle in the Bible Belt, the initial offering from Missouri rockers Ha Ha Tonka, finds the band at the puppy stage of its development: eager to please, zipping from one place to the next, prone to making a lot of noise. The members of Ha Ha Tonka deliver each song with an exuberance that demonstrates the sheer amount of energy they put into their music. Though far from being a polished collection of songs, Buckle in the Bible Belt indicates that Ha Ha Tonka is game enough to keep at it and start heading in the right direction.
Though there are moments that drag on Buckle in the Bible Belt (which the band originally self-released in 2006), there are very engaging high points. “Cure for the Common Cold” is a simple, catchy tune that sounds like an energized Ben Folds rocker. “Gusto” and “Up Nights” push the envelope a little further, and in these tunes Ha Ha Tonka comes closest to finding its voice. The band channels its energy into a simple driving rhythm and then layers it with a slick guitar to serve as an exclamation point.
The album falters when the band travels too far afield from this simple formula. “Bully in the Pulpit,” “Hangman,” and “Falling In” all seek to highlight the vocal talents of the band, but they sound showy without the fuller instrumentation present elsewhere on the album. The rest of Buckle in the Bible Belt wavers somewhere in between, leaving it slightly uneven. At points, the band members seem so eager to impress that they trip over their own feet. Buckle in the Bible Belt shows a lot of promise, but the members of Ha Ha Tonka lack the self-assurance necessary to achieve their potential.