Review Summary: A refined and improved sophomore album from Hot Water Music's frontman.
Feast Or Famine was a pretty big album for me and to this day I'm not sure why. There was just something addictive and memorable about Hot Water Music frontman Chuck Ragan playing these fairly simple acoustic numbers. In a time where it seemed that every punk band had a member making a folk album, it was nice to hear Chuck actually taking influences from Western country music as opposed to merely playing acoustic versions of his band's music like everyone else was. For his latest album, Gold Country, the Western influences are even more apparent than they were on Feast Or Famine.
Those who bothered to listen to Chuck's collaboration with Austin Lucas that was released last year, Bristle Ridge, should have seen this coming. Bristle Ridge was basically a pure country album, and while it could have been a huge failure, it was saved by the immense camaraderie that can be felt in the music, and while listening to it, you really can't help but think, "This is what country music should be about." Even though there were guest and gang vocals on Feast Or Famine, it still felt solely like a Chuck Ragan album. Gold Country goes the way of Bristle Ridge, with more instruments and more gang vocals, and ultimately the album is stronger for it. Feast Or Famine's success came from its simplicity; it only took one or two listens to learn the words, and after that you were powerless to resist the urge to sing along. This album is more involved, the music is more immersive, and as such it does take longer to get into. Still, that doesn't mean there aren't immediately affecting songs here; "10 West" and "Glory" are both instant clap-a-longs, and if you liked Feast Or Famine you'll definitely find a lot to love here. And dear god, his voice is absolutely perfect for this style of music.
I actually got into Chuck Ragan's solo music before I really started to love Hot Water Music, and I think that's why I love all of his albums so much. If you really pay attention you'll find that there are huge similarities between country and punk, mostly in the sense of friendship and camaraderie found in both genres. After years of forging friendships in the punk world, Chuck was definitely ripe to make some new ties in a similar genre. The results of those ties were first seen on Bristle Ridge, and with Gold Country, Chuck has refined and improved the sound.