Artist: Chuck Ragan
Album: Till Midnight
Release Date: 25th March 2014
Chuck Ragan is most commonly known for his efforts on the guitar and vocals with Gainesville originated band Hot Water Music. Since the band disbanded amicably in 2005, Chuck has gone on to establish a solid solo career, whilst the remaining band members created a new act known as The Draft.
2007 was the year of Ragan’s first solo album Feast or Famine and since then has released three others; Gold Country in 2009, Covering Ground in 2011. Till Midnight is Chuck Ragan’s fourth solo album, released through SideOneDummy, the record label most associated with acts such as The Gaslight Anthem’s early albums and Fake Problems, and Anti-Flag.
There are many factors about Chuck Ragan’s new album that are first-time experiences for the artist. This is the first of his albums to feature guest vocals outside the performing band. The guest vocals on the record come from Dave Hause, most known for his vocal efforts in punk outfit The Loved Ones as well as his solo records. (You can read a review of his most recent solo album here.) Additional vocals come from Ben Nichols, who works under the moniker Lucero. Lastly, Jon Snodgrass and Chad Price from Drag the River, Joe Ginsberg make appearances on Vagabond. The most notable of these is Joe Ginsberg, who made his name playing with Chuck Ragan’s band on the upright bass, however, in recent years he has started his own solo project. (You can read an interview with Joe Ginsberg here.) This song, Vagabond is one of those perfect songs for getting the feel of Chuck Ragan as a concept, introducing the American Dream, albeit a more budget one. It’s about feeling like a traveling man, and what entails this way of life, and learning to accept the beauty of the simple things in life; campfire, the world and state of mind.
The first song from Till Midnight I heard was a single called Non-Typical. For Chuck Ragan, it is an unusual song. When it comes to Ol’ Gravel Tones, we’re used to folk/country ditties concerning life and truth, Non-Typical however is surprisingly enough non-typical. It starts off with a more rock-orientated vibe with electric guitars like we’ve never heard them from Ragan outside of Hot Water Music. Naturally, the song still has elements of country music, the violins and claps with a slide guitar but with a harder approach.
This is a factor that seems to be fairly experimental, as the album returns to something a little more like what we could expect from the man. The second single from the album Something May Catch Fire is a real showpiece, demonstrating the song-writer’s niche for lyricism and simplistic brilliance. It begins with more electric guitar and acoustic guitar similar to Love Love, Kiss Kiss from Alkaline Trio’s Agony and Irony and violins, leading to the bellow of Chuck Ragan. As usual, the chorus is a real campfire sing-a-long with the sort of gusto that inspires participation. One of the best parts of the song is the breakdown about three minutes in. It’s almost void of music other than the consistent heartbeat of the drum and Chuck, leaving space for the claps you know would come during a live performance. If you listen to nothing else from this album, Something May Catch Fire is the track I would recommend, it’s a truly brilliant track showing maturation of Ragan’s music and includes the familiar beauty of the previous albums. Check it out below:
In all honesty, the rest of the album plods along in similar fashion. For long-term fans of Chuck Ragan, such as myself, this is offers a great listening experience. 37 minutes of stringed instruments and choral sing along tunes. However, if you’re a new listener to Chuck Ragan, or you’re expecting something new then this perhaps isn’t the best album for you. It hints at a slow process of change, details here and there having been altered though an altogether sense of consistency or the feeling as though it’s a climactic accumulation of the three albums that preceded it with a dash of something new and wonderful.
The song I would like to end on, is a song I feel that is the most emotional and perfect piece on the whole album. It ends the album much like Gold Country has Get ‘Em All Home, and Feast or Famine has Do What You Do, and Covering Ground has Lost and Found/Camaraderie of the Commons, Till Midnight has For All We Care. It’s one of the longest songs on the album, just falling short of five minutes (despite being the shortest of all closing songs.) and builds slow and quiet until it reaches a perfect heart-rendering exhibition of harmony between voice and instrument. I can give it no better introduction than this:
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