Chuck Ragan
Feast or Famine


3.5
great

Review

by Dr Dave De Sylvia STAFF
August 7th, 2007 | 25 replies


Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Ex-Hot Water Music frontman jams with Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash on Cold Mountain.

With Against Me!’s debut major label effort New Wave apparently confirming their oft-suspected intention to out-Pearl Jam Pearl Jam, the folk-punk crossover flag has fallen to half-mast as a saviour is sought. Thrice’s workaholic frontman Dustin Kensrue rose unwittingly to make his bid earlier this year, putting out his debut solo album Please Come Home in January. While spirited, however, it was an unremarkable effort which skirted the unique styles of Bob Dylan and Ryan Adams without adding a great deal to the mix, lacking the lyrical prowess of the former and the latter’s brutish sincerity.

At the same time, Chuck Ragan, former face of one of modern hardcore’s underappreciated giants Hot Water Music, was putting the finishing touches to Los Feliz, a live CD which attempted to capture his new, stripped-down folk material in its semi-embryonic form. Feast Or Famine, the subsequent studio album, features five of Los Feliz’s twelve tracks (the same five were also released in their underdeveloped form on the singles club collection The Blueprint Sessions), and seven brand new titles. Like Kensrue’s effort, Feast Or Famine doesn’t bring an awful lot to the table in the way of originality- the influence of pre-Highway 61 Revisited Dylan is particularly strong, as well as Celtic/British folk like The Pogues (accordionist James Fearnley guests on ‘California Burritos’) and pre-rock n’ roll blues and country- but the strength of Ragan’s voice, and the personality in lyrics and smart arrangements elevate the album above many of its peer recordings.

The recording style itself is achingly simple. Ragan makes use of minimal instrumentation, supplementing his guitar and vocal base with a range of acoustic and semi-acoustic instruments, including piano, harmonica, lap steel and a variety of muted percussion effects. His debt to Dylan is apparent from the get-go, from the crybaby harmonica of Symmetry’ and ‘For Broken Ears’ to the propulsive vocal delivery of ‘It’s What You Will’ and the ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’-referencing ‘California Burritos.’ His lyrics, too, recall Hibbing’s best. Though he shies away from balladry, his lyrics are thoughtful and self-critical, dealing in a lot of personal pronouns without becoming pontifical. The chorus of ‘California Burritos’ demonstrates the point exactly, as Ragan sings: “I can’t stand feeling nothing/I can’t stand feeling old/I can’t stand standing for nothing when standing up is all I know.” ‘It’s What You Will’ hears him lament: “Mind the world that’s dying/It isn’t yours to kill/Look around, it’s what you will.”

The wide variety of sounds represented on the album is joyful to behold. As exciting a vocalist as he is, Ragan seems keenly aware of his own limitations, and strives to create unique melodic voices in each track to offset his own gravelly vocals, which are an acquired taste. Opening track ‘The Boat’ floats on a beautiful, reverb-soaked lap steel guitar line; ‘The Grove’ and ‘It’s What You Will’ are each built upon atmospheric beats, the former driven by a moody organ melody and the latter by the brute force of Ragan’s stony vocals; ‘California Burritos,’ ‘Geraldine’ and ‘Do You Pray’ are duets with Jolie Holland of the Be Good Tanyas, and her non-intrusive accompaniment serves as the perfect accompaniment to Chuck’s gruff demeanour, giving the tracks an ‘Oh Sister’/Carter Family flavour. Producer Ted Hutt (Flogging Molly, The Bouncing Souls) must be given at least equal credit for the strength and simplicity of the production; the soaring fiddle arrangement of ‘It’s What You Will’ in particular evokes his work on Flogging Molly’s ‘Whistles The Wind.’



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user ratings (99)
Chart.
3.7
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Intransit
August 7th 2007


2797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Agreed.

mozartv
August 8th 2007


27 Comments


I really enjoyed Dustin Kensrue's solo album, and also enjoyed Greg Graffin's solo album, so I'm gonna have to get this.

Fort23
August 8th 2007


2480 Comments


Daryl Palumbo should have a solo folk project. That would be pretty sweet. Nice review, this looks cool.

jrowa001
August 8th 2007


8750 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i had no idea this came out, great review. ill be getting this soon

GleamInRanks
August 9th 2007


298 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

This is pretty good stuff. My only complaint is that a couple of tracks were sort of forgettable, but a good listen overall. "California Burritos" is fantastic.




tom79
August 9th 2007


3384 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This album is good, some songs sounded alike but I liked the lyrics. Nice review.

Digging: Bent Outta Shape - Bent Outta Shape

204409
Emeritus
August 9th 2007


3996 Comments


[quote=Fort23]Daryl Palumbo should have a solo funk project.[/quote]

Ya! Great idea!

Fort23
August 9th 2007


2480 Comments


solo funk lol
i like this a lot.

lunchforthesky
August 10th 2007


1039 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is a great listen but obviously is pretty unremarkable.

jrowa001
August 10th 2007


8750 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

just got this. i pretty much agree with what everybody has said about it. got some great tracks and lyrics but some songs are forgettable

Intransit
November 16th 2007


2797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

SHUT UP PLATH YOU DONT UNDERSTAND THE CR00SHNESS OF HWM THEY RULE

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
January 28th 2008


17946 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is really good stuff.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
June 8th 2008


17946 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

ls;dajf this is so fucking good. i can't stop listening to it.

Intransit
July 7th 2008


2797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Pretty much yeah. The Boat and Do What You Do are so amazing sfjdslkfjdl

Kiran
Emeritus
December 21st 2008


6002 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is pretty awesome. I didn't even know he had a solo project until I saw it in my last.fm recommendations.

also, do what you do is an amazing songThis Message Edited On 12.21.08

Digging: D'Angelo - Black Messiah

AtavanHalen
December 21st 2008


17927 Comments


I love his voice.

SeaAnemone
March 2nd 2009


20973 Comments


This is good after the first listen. Not mindblowing, I can see this growing on me.

Digging: Viet Cong - Viet Cong

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
March 2nd 2009


17946 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

this is one of my favorite albums, i love singing along to it

SeaAnemone
March 2nd 2009


20973 Comments


I really hope you look like your avatar, because that's what I imagine with Chuck's voice right now. If the answer is no, please don't reply and spoil my fantasy.

FranklinFurnace
January 29th 2011


5 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Heard "the boat" over the intercom at a music store and new it was Ragan from HWM right away. Ragan is good because he takes good song writing into a simple musical atmosphere that doesnt taint the total ambiance. Love this album



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