Review Summary: Hot Water Music front man releases his third and most affecting record yet
There is something ultimately gratifying when certain musicians strike the balance between musicianship and pure poignancy, in order to craft that landmark record that the artist had set out to attain since their sonic inception. Even greater, is when musicianship can be bypassed for potent lyrics and full-fledged passion; saying what needs to be said without any showy to distract us from the focal point. It is a simplicity that has boded so well for the likes of punk artists Frank Turner and Chris McCaughan (Sundowner) among others, who have gone on to feature outstanding solo careers. In some cases, the artist finds himself even more proficient solo than in his respective band, proving that the transition is a rather natural one. With that said, Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music fame should be strongly considered for that latter category, as Covering Ground
is the defining record of his solo stint.
While the aforementioned statement generally indicates a fresh and dissimilar direction from the artist’s previous works, Covering Ground
doesn’t reveal anything about Ragan that was not demonstrated in his debut and sophomore release. Rather, Ragan’s third solo album is a mastery of his stripped-down Americana. With only strings, occasional backing vocals, a harmonica, and an acoustic guitar to cultivate with, Ragan is howling his way through his most potent collection of songs yet; providing more than enough vigor with his vocals alone. Abrasive, passionate, and undoubtedly distinct, Ragan’s vocals are truly the record’s greatest asset. Keeping this in mind, Ragan’s influence in front of the mic is a hell of a lot more effective than anything he had done with Hot Water Music, here with minimal distractions to deflect the attention away from him. Yet, when additional vocalists are implemented at certain points in the record, Covering Ground
conveys that anthemic quality that is so often sought out in an Americana release. The most notable of these occurrences is within “Meet You in the Middle,” which is highlighted by Brian Fallon’s guest appearance. Trading off lines, Fallon and Ragan exhibit tremendous chemistry in “Meet You in the Middle,” the penultimate track establishing itself as one of the more infectious piece’s in Ragan’s arsenal.
Whether Ragan’s solo work will supersede his efforts with Hot Water Music is too early to tell, but with Covering Ground
the Hot Water Music front man is making a serious case for his relatively new direction to continue. Bold, anthemic, and poignant, Covering Ground
captures the folk-punk resonance that was so affecting on both Feast or Famine
and Gold Country
and enhances it. Furthermore, Ragan’s third release indicates just how intoxicating his material can be, even with nominal instrumentation.