Album Review: “Heartbreak Hits” by Theo Katzman

The title of Theo Katzman’s second full-length album, “Heartbreak Hits,” sounds a lot like the title of a would-be dad rock album released in the ‘70s. Katzman is an LA based singer-songwriter who came to fame as the drummer/guitarist/singer in quirky funk band Vulfpeck. So, when I first listened to this album, I assumed it would be more of the same goofy funk tunes, maybe paired with a couple of soul tunes to showcase his singing. Contrastingly, a lot of the songs on the album—especially “Hard Work,” “My Heart is Dead,” and “As the Romans Do”—sound suspiciously like something off of The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” released in ’76. Katzman sings and plays drums and guitar on the album, while Vulfpeck bassist Joe Dart and pianist Woody Goss sit in.

Part of what I love about Katzman’s music is that everything is in the service of the song. In his solo career, his role is the songwriter, which is different from his role in Vulfpeck as more of an instrumentalist or singer. The musicianship on the album is, of course, still fantastic, and all of the drumming and guitar work on the album is his. Katzman rarely solos (excepting his ripping solo on “As the Romans Do”), preferring to keep his songs less open. The album starts off with “Hard Work,” a rock song about a one-sided relationship. Katzman’s guitar and voice really wail over this tune. His lead guitar on this one is strikingly similar to that of The Eagles’ Joe Walsh. The next tune on the album is one of my personal favorites: “Break Up Together,” about an on-again-off-again relationship. This song, like “Hard Work,” is pretty upbeat, though it reminds me much more of Jack Johnson than of ‘70s rock. The middle of the song has a nice keyboard solo that gently quotes the melody of the song. The acoustic background provides a nice texture for Katzman’s falsetto.

After “Break Up Together,” “Crappy Love Song” has Katzman singing the lyrics “No more sad, sad sappy love songs about two people who can’t get along / I want a glad, glad, happy love song / I’d even take a crappy love song, like this.” Katzman’s acoustic guitar gives the song a hint of John Mayer, combined with some great lead guitar and piano that really makes “Crappy Love Song” a stand-out on the album. “My Heart is Dead” is cut from the same cloth as “Hard Work,” where Katzman’s guitar doubles his voice an octave above, creating a gutsy wail, while the rest of the band sings harmony. “As the Romans Do” is another favorite on the album, as Katzman really lets loose on guitar. The album closes with “Plain Jane Heroin,” a song about a broken relationship that dealt with heavy drug use. Whether this song is about Katzman’s experiences or not, it feels extremely personal, reminding me of the Allman Brothers jamming on a slower tune. Guest lap steel guitarist Drew Howard plays some great lines that really tear the listener’s heart out.

My only complaint is that there are two or three other songs that really don’t compare to these standouts; it feels like the first side of the album is stacked with the hits, while the second side has several that just don’t line up as well (“Love is a Beautiful Thing” and “Plain Jane Heroin” are definitely exceptions). There isn’t a lot of lyrical variety, as the album title proclaims. Overall, however, a terrific album by one of my favorite musicians.

 

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