Review of “The Haygoods” show and new CD “Leaving It All Behind” by Larry Estep
Call me jaded by over 20 years of working in the media, including several as a radio DJ, but it takes a lot to impress me, especially when it comes to music. As a lover of most all genres I have heard just about everything, but I especially enjoy music that tells a story and solicits genuine emotion from the listener. Unfortunately with the age of automation, DJ voice tracks, and big record labels controlling the airwaves there is a lack of genuinely unique and original material out there. Everyone seems to want to sound like everyone else. There are diamonds in the rough, though, if you look hard enough for them, and one of those rare hidden gems is a group hiding deep in the Ozarks of Southwest Missouri.
I have been a fan of country music since 1999 when I moved to a small West Central Indiana town that revolved around NASCAR, farming, and country music. Before that time the only names I really knew were Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. It didn’t take long before I was hooked, and I started to realize that a lot of country music was like listening to a book on tape. It told a story from start to finish, all wrapped up neatly in a roughly 3 minute and 30 second package. Each song meant something, whether it was funny or serious, and you walked away feeling like in some way that song said something that you wanted to say or you could relate to what was being said. This has always made country music stand out, and it helps fans feel a more personal connection with the artists.
Branson, MO is a town that isn’t your grandparent’s weekend getaway any longer. There is a lot more there than meets the eye. The talent of a group called The Haygoods is a great example. With the multitude of shows and attractions on “The 76 Strip” you could easily overlook them, but if you do you are missing something great. The group of 7 brothers and a sister started entertaining crowds with their parents nearly two decades ago at a local theme park, and they have grown up perfecting and fine tuning their craft into something all their own. The high energy show at the Americana Theater is a 2 hour plus mix of music that ranges from acoustic to country and even rock and pop mixed with pure adrenaline, and down home feel good fun. Their music is more than just the standard covers, but even when they do those they find a way to make them uniquely their own.
There is something that makes each of The Haygoods unique. Aaron, the youngest brother, has the fresh dance moves and vocals that his teenage fan crowd loves, but don’t let that make you think that the stuff they dish out is just more bubble gum country pop…far from it. He and 3 of his siblings (Catherine, Dominic and Timothy) are also extremely talented violinists. This comes in handy when you want to do something like tackle a song that few groups dare touch…the classic Charlie Daniels hit “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” The fiddling was so fast that even the high speed setting on my camera didn’t catch anything more than a blur. I think a perfectly good musical instrument needed serious repair by the end of that one, and I am sure Mr. Daniels himself would approve wholeheartedly.
There is even more talent running around in this group. The master bass playing, vocals, and energy of Matthew Haygood makes you want to get up out of your seat and jump up and down, and the vocal talent of the sole female voice of Catherine perfectly complements the group, and when she starts singing you think you are listening to a seasoned country legend. The rest of the group is rounded out by even more musical and instrumental talent with brothers Michael, Patrick, and Shawn.
While their stage performance is a must see if you come to Branson, the group has finally released an album to showcase their great musical talent to the world. “Leaving It All Behind” features 10 original tunes including their one of a kind “Country Boy”, a truly sensational interpretation of the 1975 John Denver classic with a beat that will have you clapping your hands and a unique electronic techno vibe that is best described as a cross between the B-52’s and Sugarland. This was a great song to lead off the album with, and I can see this making a 36 year old song rise to the top of the charts again if it gets the right exposure. All they need now is to get this song on the radio across the U.S.
Don’t let this make you think that like some albums the best song is at the beginning. There aren’t any “B-side tunes” in this mix. The second song, “Playin’ In The Sun” makes me feel like I am sitting on a beach with sand between my toes, while beach balls bounce all around me. As this song’s catchy vibes were radiating out of my car speakers I pulled up to a traffic light while jamming to the groove with the windows down and sunroof open. I glanced at the car next to me and they were sharing in the pure musical fun my radio was blaring. The guaranteed smile on your face enthusiasm of this groove is infectious. After spending 10 minutes listening to just the first 2 tracks on this album you will have these songs in your head all day. Track 5 “Get Out Now” and Track 7 “Run Like Hell” are 2 more that will have you just as hooked. It is like candy for music lovers. This CD is so hot I was fairly certain that my car CD player might melt down before I got through all 10 tracks.
There are other musical styles and talents that get intermixed throughout the other tracks on this CD, and there are many a story to be told. “Anytown Texas” is a moving song that tells a powerful tale in a way that is uniquely reminiscent of some of the country greats. The romantic duet “I Love You So” has instant success written all over it and could easily be the standard first dance song at any wedding. Throw in the rest of the songs, “Old Man”, “Take Me Away”, “If I Said”, and “Won’t Let Go” and you’ve got a finely crafted and well worth the wait gem of a musical compilation that will have you wanting more. I am certain with the broad range of talent and the dedication to their growing fan base that is genuinely unmatched, this group is sure not to disappoint with future releases. Like a fine wine they will continue to get even better with time.
Look for The Haygoods on your TV screen and listen for them on your radio soon. There are talks of a U.S. tour in the offseason after a hugely successful visit to China in January, and I am sure there are some in the music industry who are starting to take notice of the next big thing to hit the country music scene…The Haygoods. I’m excited as a fan to be along for the ride. One thing I’m sure of…they may travel the globe but their roots will always be in Branson, and I have a feeling they will always use their theater there as home base because that is what keeps them grounded and makes them unique.
The CD “Leaving It All Behind” is available for order on The Haygoods website at http://www.thehaygoods.com, selling over 5,000 in the U.S. in the first 2 weeks, and nearly that many were sold in China. Not bad for a group that started as a family performing at a theme park show.
(Larry Estep is a freelance journalist in Springfield, IL and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)