Chuck Ragan: Covering Ground

It’s obvious that I do a lot of rock and metal on these reviews, but because I am well rounded in terms of the music I like, I try to include reviews for albums from other genres and styles of music (i.e. Folk, Hip-Hop, Pop, and Country). I’ve done reviews for Lady Gaga and Lil Wayne, but I think this is the first time i’ve done and official Folk artist review. For those of you who aren’t familiar with his work Chuck Ragan is a singer/songwriter, playes acoustic guitar and was/is the lead singer for the band, Hot Water Music (and the Hot Water Music side project Rumblebeast) as well as a successful solo artist. He’s been on tour with the likes of Frank Turner,  The Gaslight Anthem, and Social Distortion. He and his band play folk rock mixed with punk rock and he is signed with Side One Dummy records, the same home as Flogging Molly and Big D and the Kid’s Table.

Now I love folk music, next to metal of course. But folk music will always have a special place in my heart and Chuck Ragan is one of the best singer/songwriters of the day in the same plane as folk giants like Iron and Wine, Frank Turner, and even Alison Krauss. This is his fourth solo studio album and this is actually the first Chuck Ragan solo album I’ve ever listened to (actually thats not true, because I listened to the album he did with Austin Lucas, another folk rock-ish singer/songwriter). I went into a Hot Topic one day, started talking to one of the sales associates, and I left with a huge list of bands to check out that he recommended, including Chick Ragan and Hot Water Music. i have to say, if it wasn’t for that guy i met at Hot Topic, i wouldn’t be aware of the awesome music being delivered by this brilliant man.

I’ve never done a review for a folk artist before and I find that when i listen to folk artists, I find myself repeating the same thing for people who are all completely different. I mean, Frank Turner, Chuck Ragan, and iron and Wine (to name a few), are all solo artists who have performed with bands, but for the most part are just themselve and their guitar. They all sound uniquely different, but all share similar aspects of brilliance. They are all brilliant singers and songwriters and lyricists, but each have something unique to add to the overall sound that defines them. For Chuck Ragan, I would say, right off the bat, his voice is a defining attribute to his music. Unlike iron and Wine, who has a very soft and almost sweet, loving voice and unlike Turner, who is british, Ragan, has a very rough, almost Springsteen-like edge to it. I don’t even know why I keep comparing him to Frank Turner and iron and Wine because they aren’t the best comparisons. I’m just going to focus on Chuck and not compare and contrast everything.

This new record, to me, is a just a classic, beautiful folk record. It’s more than just Chuck though. There’s a large group of people accompanying him, playing other instruments like upright bass, banjo, steel guitar, and some percussion. Also, when it comes to folk music, every song to me is a single, but some songs that really stuck out to me on this record were, “Nomad by fate” and “Wish on the Moon”. “Nomad by Fate” opens up with a killer fiddle hook that returns every now and then on the track. It’s very uptempo and flowing, compared to “Wish on the Moon” which is significantly slower, but not ploddy and still has vitality. What really caught my ear was how he was able to slip the lyric “Take my hand/ take my whole life too” in the same style as the King himself (If you don’t know what song i’m referring to, then you need to seriosuly reevaluate your life).

Other noteworthy songs include “Come Around”, “Valentine”, and “Nothing Left to Prove”, but really every song is great. Also, don’t just listen to the album once. I’ve found that all folk music sounds better and better the more you listen to it, especially if you love it from the get-go. If you’re a fan or Frank Turner, The Gaslight Anthem, or even Flogging Molly, you had better listen to this album. It’s really good and it might find its way into my top 20 list at the end of the year.

Keep it real.

Luke Helker


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