Two rather unorthodox things about this review:
1. I'm actually reviewing two albums, but one (Los Feliz) is a live album that has many songs that will be on his forth-coming debut album (Feast or Famine), and since I've heard both I thought I'd just put them in the same review.
2. This isn't metal, or anything close to it, but I think it's something a lot of people here would enjoy.
For those of you not close to the punk rock scene, Chuck Ragan was the gravelly-voiced singer of Hot Water Music, a vastly awesome and influential band who, sadly, called it quits last year. The rest of the band resurfaced as The Draft, who are great in their own right, while Chuck pursued his solo work. As disappointing as the breakup of HWM was, the fact that it meant that Chuck could put out great music like this definitely lessens the sting. Just as HWM put out fiercely passionate and inspiring works of emo/punk (that's REAL emo, kids, not that whiny Panic at the Disco shit that MTV calls emo), Chuck channels that same passion into some truly inspiring folk music. Mostly, it's just him with an acoustic guitar, but he has help from some friends who add fiddles and harmonics that really give the tunes a nice Pete Seeger/Woody Guthrie feel.
Feast or Famine
This record kicks off with "The Boat," which features wonderful, driving acoustic chords and Chuck's fierce voice, which sounds like he has a breakfast of whiskey and cigarettes every morning, but which is still bursting with emotion. "California Burritos" is one of the highlights of the album, with a very catchy chorus and some fantastic lyrics. Speaking of lyrics, they are absolutely spectacular here, but that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who's heard HWM. The melancholy "Geraldine" follows, which is an amazing piece of American folk, and it sounds like it would be right at home back in the Great Depression. This whole album is amazing from beginning to end, and the studio production doesn't less the urgency of the vocals, and allows for more lush arrangements with more instruments.
This live album came out in May (Feast or Famine is set to be released next month), and it shows that Chuck's true home is in a live setting. It starts off with "Open Up and Wail," a very fitting title considering what he does with his voice. The way he belts out the chorus will send chills down your spine, and you can definitely tell that it got the audience going. The best part of the set, though, is an absolutely breathtaking cover of HWM's "God Deciding," which, when stripped down, is an incredible piece of emotional songwriting. There are also great live versions of "The Boat," "California Burritos," and "Do You Pray." Another highlight is the fevered stomp of "Fixin' To Die," a rip-roaring piece of religious folk that would make Johnny Cash stand up and cheer.
Regardless of what you think of punk rock, these albums are not something you want to pass up if you're a fan of heartfelt songwriting and folk rock. If you like Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie, I can almost guarantee that you'll enjoy this