Posted by: will | August 9, 2007

Chuck Ragan…

BEST NEW MUSIC

Chuck Ragan “Feast Or Famine” (SideOneDummy)

When Chuck Ragan released a live album called Los Feliz earlier this year before his full-fledged solo debut album, I found it somewhat peculiar. But Ragan has certainly not taken the conventional route since going solo. Chuck Ragan led the seminal emo/hardcore band Hot Water Music for 12 years before the band’s official end in May of 2006. Ragan’s first solo releases which started at the end of 2006 were six 7″ records. They had been set up as a “singles club” with HWM’s longtime label and friends at No Idea Records. Where so many artists seem to continue to abide by conventional standards, Ragan’s approach to releasing his music in such a creative manner is refreshing. None of this would matter of course if Ragan’s songs did not deliver. So, lucky for us they do.

Right from the beginning, album opener “The Boat” hints at the emotional depth Ragan is coming at you with on Feast Or Famine. Ragan’s voice is not as grizzled as it once was but he still has a way of making a song echo through your very soul. The political song “For Broken Ears” is truly gut-wrenching as Ragan seems to have the current administration in his cross-hairs. The lyrics of The half-truth trails and the holy lies of an empty heart and overflowing mouth/ A plastic smile and a cowards frown/ Repercussions come around when the word named free burns to the ground somehow are moving to say the least. I was surprised to see “California Burritos”on Feast Or Famine. The song is dusted off from Rumbleseat, one of Ragan’s side projects during Hot Water Music. Here, while it may lack that immediate punk rock feel of the old version, the new recording delivers a raw beauty with a little Irish flair to boot. On “It’s What You Will” Ragan’s sincere vocals pack the instantly powerful message of Mind the world that’s dying/It isn’t yours to kill/Look around/It’s what you will. “Between The Lines” sounds like a rousing tribute to the man, Johnny Cash. The longing love song “Symmetry” is a perfect example of how the musical backdrops on Feast Of Famine enhance Ragan’s songs so well. Much like Tim Barry‘s amazing Rivanna Junction, Chuck Ragan accents his songs with subtle accompaniments and arrangements. As it should be, nothing ever overshadows Ragan and his lyrical bite.

Feast Or Famine should dismiss any and all doubt that Ragan has gone soft in his solo state. Ragan sounds traveled and worn…but remarkably content with his life. In clearer terms, he sounds like a true American storyteller full of heart and most of all, wisdom. The constant themes of respect for your common man rule Ragan’s songwriting. He gets political as he questions our leaders and this incomprehensible war. He begs for us all to be content with what we have, to find joy in our existence and comfort in whatever helps get us by. Simply put, Chuck Ragan feels blessed to be alive and he translates that through these heart-on-sleeve songs. Most of all, Feast Or Famine is real. It is an album full of character and passion. We should not have expected anything less from Chuck Ragan.

RIYL: Hot Water Music, Tim Barry, Johnny Cash

Listen:

Chuck Ragan – For Broken Ears (mp3)

Chuck Ragan – The Grove (mp3)

www.myspace.com/chuckragan

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Responses

  1. Good review. I was checking out Chuck’s website yesterday. I think he lives like 45 minutes away from Sac in Grass Valley … and he ain’t played a show here yet!!!

  2. Have you heard the Blueprint Sessions (the singles club)? It reminds me a lot of Rumbleseat. I still have to pick up Feast or Famine, but I’m even more excited now that you said “California Burritos” is on there. That song always resonated with me.

  3. This has displaced Agony (The Tossers) as my favorite album of 2007. Chuck is an amazing songwriter and singer.


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