Chuck Ragan

Gold Country

Written by: PP on 13/10/2009 16:21:17

I'm not normally a huge fan of singer/songwriter stuff, especially not of the folksy / country style like the one heard on "Gold Country". I guess it did have to take the golden throat of Hot Water Music vocalist Chuck Ragan to make me like this stuff though, because his sophomore album has to be my favorite release in the genre so far, which isn't so surprising in the end since everything Chuck (or the rest of the Hot Water Music guys, for that matter) touches turns into gold. But unless you've heard his debut album before, be prepared for a bewildering experience, because other than his beloved throaty vocal style, there's nothing here to connect "Gold Country" with any of the Hot Water Music material. Instead, this stuff sounds much more like the later days of Johnny Cash than anything else.

The usual instruments for the genre are there: strong acoustic guitar takes the lead in all songs, but you'll also hear some great banjo playing, some subtle strings (especially on the fantastic "Glory"), and a bunch of other instruments you'd normally associate with country / folk releases. It says Chuck produced the album fully by himself, which leads me to wonder if he wrote (and played) all the other instruments in the mix as well during recording. Now that'd be fucking impressive. The decision to produce the album alone is one of the key strenghts of the record, because instead of following the genre trends and producing every instrument to the point that they sound polished, the songs on "Gold Country" have been left to resonate at lo-fi garage levels, adding a similar rough edge to the vocals and the guitar as you'd imagine on any Hot Water Music release. You can hear every strum and glitch on the acoustic guitar, and Chuck's familiar raspy, hoarse voice sounds so exceptionally warm and intimate as well.

Some of the songs on the record are nothing short of incredible. "For Goodness Sake" strikes a chord with me in particular because I've never heard that aggressive vocals over such subtle musical platform, and while the high pitch chorus of "Glory" is very different, it works equally well once you get used to Ragan's unconventional vocals on it. In fact, the first five tracks are all good enough to warrant this release a 'great' (9) rating: "Rotterdam", "Done And Done", and especially the quiet ballad "Don't Say A Word" are all just that good. The latter actually reminds me a bit of Attack In Black's criminally underrated ballad "If All I Thought Were True", and in fact it's possible to draw a (thin) parallel between "Gold Country" and said band's sophomore full length, the experimental folk record "Years (By One Thousand Fingertips)".

The remainder of tracks rely heavily on Chuck's raspy, emotionally charged vocals, and while they are also pretty fucking good, there's a few tracks that make me think of the album just as 'rather good' instead of astonishing overall. Then there's also "Let It Rain", which has a chorus that sounds almost identical to John Denver's "Country Roads" classic, probably unintentionally but still. That being said, this is a fantastic singer/songwriter release, and probably a great starting point to Hot Water Music as well because it highlights one of the absolute strengths of that band: Chuck Ragan's unique vocals that have since been copy-catted by hundreds, if not thousands of other punk/post-hardcore bands.


Download: For Goodness Sake, Glory, Done And Done
For the fans of: Hot Water Music, Johnny Cash, John Denver, Attack In Black
Listen: Myspace

Release date 01.09.2009

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