Review Summary: Former Hot Water Music singer/guitarist debut offers a solid live album, full of variety and enough folk-punk sing-alongs to keep listeners satisfied until his full length debut this August.
Solo projects are fairly hit and miss from my experience. Granted, there are many occasions when the solo project is actually on par, or better than the original band. Sundowner (Chris McCaughan of the Lawrence Arms’ acoustic project) and Fort Minor (Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park fame) both come to mind immediately with this description. However, when artists from great bands decide to pursue a solo career, it generally proves to be a solid hold over until the band’s next work, but never really anything superb. Los Feliz
, the newly released live album from former Hot Water Music
singer/guitarist Chuck Ragan, falls under this category quite well.
Firstly, Ragan has clearly abandoned the energetic post-hardcore that Hot Water Music was known for, and traded it for some traditional folk inspired tunes, all with a biting acoustic-punk attitude that can’t be denied. Do You Pray?
is the first outwardly folk-driven song on the album, with Ragan’s hearty croon being accented by traditional instruments such as a mandolin, harmonica, and violin. Valentine
follows up in a similar tradition to Do You Pray?
, but with much more success than its predecessor. Ragan seems infinitely more impassioned singing about love than he does about doubting religion, which makes Valentine
one of the strongest tracks on Los Feliz
However, Los Feliz
is not all just jaunty folk romps; also prevalent are the straight acoustic tracks, which play much like simple punk anthems. God Deciding
is a Hot Water Music song from the Alkaline Trio/Hot Water Music split, and is easily the strongest track on the album. Ragan belts out the song with all of the fury and passion of the original and even then some. The Boat
comes in a close second, with Ragan’s superb songwriting skills coming to the forefront.
For a live album, the production quality is fairly solid, although certainly nothing that hasn’t been duplicated or bettered elsewhere. Ragan’s guitar of choice is an acoustic-electric, which tends to sound much thinner and weaker on recording than properly mic’ing an acoustic would. However, on the folksy tracks, the thinner, twangy sound works to Ragan’s advantage when mixed with the other instruments. The crowd is somewhat prevalent in the mix, although fairly unnoticeable until the breaks between songs, and once during the clapping section of For Broken Ears
, which is sort of disappointing considering the sing-along nature of many of Ragan’s tunes (and especially so given the Hot Water Music cover).
For Ragan’s debut, the former Hot Water Music singer/guitarist offers a mixed bag of tracks; roughly half folk jams, and half upbeat acoustic punk tunes. While the production can be shoddy on a rare occasion, and some of the songs seem to have no real redeeming qualities when juxtaposed with some of the gems on this album, this is still a collection of solid sing-alongs and offers up enough variety to keep it from getting really old quickly. Los Feliz is a fine sampler for those who care to look into some of the music that Ragan has been crafting since Hot Water Music disbanded two years ago, and serves as an excellent teaser before his full length studio debut this fall.