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Chuck Ragan Covering Ground Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Third solo album from the Hot Water Music frontman.

Alistair Lawrence 2011

It’s fitting that one of the voices behind Hot Water Music should start his third solo album with a song titled Nothing Left to Prove. Chuck Ragan’s main band now has their influence felt from the world-weary earnestness of Against Me! and The Gaslight Anthem to more high-octane offerings from relative newcomers such as Title Fight and Make Do and Mend.

Branching out on his own has previously allowed Ragan to satisfy his yearning to make wholehearted but relatively low-key folk records. Like the gruff, tuneful post-hardcore that he produces elsewhere, the parameters are pretty much set, so it’s a pleasant surprise to see the up-tempo, fiddle-led Nomad by Fate satisfy both his wandering lifestyle and his muse. It’s a swift recovery from the bathos that tinges the album’s opener, too, where lines like "Sometimes you reach for the bottle before the sky" flash a warning that this may be little more than another bout of introspection at a time when many of his peers are releasing solo records or side projects that do the same.

As the album progresses, it actually settles into a groove that offers a bit of both: a stark, old-timey musical score hurried up by a voice that sounds like it’s emanating from a man as keen to look over his shoulder as he is pause and reflect. The former wins out most of the time, but the rolling call and response of Meet You in the Middle is one of the high points where things pick up in every sense. It’s also a rare instance where he is clearly not content to be alone with his thoughts, as a second voice adds layers and textures with back-up vocals.

When regarded as the latest instalment in Ragan dialling things down and documenting life in the lay-bys and motel rooms that punctuate the fast lane, it’s easier to forgive the tracks that meander, ponder and lament. In fact, for better or worse, that’s sort of the point. It’s also an understandable precursor to Hot Water Music serving up another studio album that roars with life again.

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