Photo by Frank Hill
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 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 they’ve 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. 2011’s Death Of A Decade put the group on the map, stitching folk instruments to a driving, modern beat. The Austin Chronicle called the record “the birth of an important band,” an assessment confirmed by Ha Ha Tonka’s buzz-worthy live shows.
On September 24, the band returns with its fourth album, Lessons. The title actually comes from noted children’s author Maurice Sendak, who was very vocal about how the creative process mirrors life. To Sendak, it’s a constant cycle of rebirth and rewriting, and Lessons is heavy with that sentiment. First single “Colorful Kids” blasts out of the gate with Ha Ha Tonka’s trademark mandolin-led sound, but the brightness is offset by the lyrics. “That’s just the way it is / Even the colourful kids eventually will fade into the black-and-white,” Roberts sings. The lessons on Lessons sound hard-earned, but Ha Ha Tonka is up for the task.