Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chuck Ragan & Austin Lucas - Bristle Ridge

Chuck Ragan & Austin Lucas - Bristle Ridge
Ten-Four Records

It's no secret to anyone that I pretty much love anything Chuck Ragan touches. Hot Water Music is one of the most important bands ever for me, and Chuck's solo stuff has been knockin me out, no matter what it is. When I started hearing about Bristle Ridge, I was a little nervous. All his talk about country, bluegrass and gospel had me skeptical. Could he pull it off? Would I even like it? What the hell will it sound like?

Thankfully, this record leaked a while ago, despite the fact that I'm still anxiously awaiting vinyl pre-orders. Upon listening to it, the first thing that struck me was how different it was from his previous releases. As far as the LPs go, Los Feliz was pretty stripped down and raw, while Feast or Famine was a bit more folksy, but still moderately accessible. This new record, a collaboration with Austin Lucas, is a big change. From the open verse of "Bloody Shells," it's obvious that this is a bluegrass record. My initial thoughts were "Holy crap, this could be the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?!"

As the record goes on, songs flip back and forth between Chuck's familiar gruffness, and Austin Lucas' folksier twang. Some of the songs are independent ventures, while others show a collaboration between the two. Some of the highlights are the vocal melodies of "Cold Night," which while being a folk song, showcases really traditional pop rock vocal parts, particularly in the chorus. The slow, halftime of "Simple Life" with Austin Lucas' wailing of "Oh lord where are the hours? Oh lord" has a familiar feel to it, as it's steeped in traditional folk and bluegrass tradition. The same can be said for the down home rootsy guitar of "Distant Land to Roam," a nice collaboration between Chuck and Austin, with nice vocal interplay between the two.

I think for me that's part of what makes this record great. I've never been a big follower of bluegrass, despite enjoying it. It's just never a scene I've delved into and really digested. For me, this record serves as a comfortable introduction. This record feels like something that you've heard for years. For me, part of that is Chuck's voice, but the rest is the homage that these two pay to traditional bluegrass and folk. It's simple, and pure, and really doesn't break any new ground for the genre, but typifies it well.

When I feel like listening to Chuck's voice, I'm not sure this is the first record I'd throw on, but given the right time and mood, this record is definitely a fun listen. This could be the soundtrack to many lazy afternoons sittin on a front porch somewhere, sippin lemonade.

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