Covering GroundSideOneDummy Records
By Dustin Blumhagen
By now it is almost expected that every singer in a punk rock band eventually releases a stripped down acoustic solo album. For the most part these are little more than unnecessary acoustic songs that could pass as throwaway B-sides from their full band. There are of course a few notable exceptions, such as Joe Strummer’s Streetcore, which fused punk rock energy, folk storytelling and world soundscapes into a brilliant farewell album. Hot Water Music’s Chuck Ragan has a lot of years ahead of him before he can stand alongside a legend like Strummer, but over the course of a multitude of 7”s, full lengths and split albums he has proven that his solo work stands strongly on its’ own merit.
This album is his testament to a life on the road, which is confidently backed up by the miles he has clocked as a solo artist, with Hot Water Music and with The Revival Tour. Nothing Left to Prove contrasts a melancholy fiddle arrangement with Ragan’s ragged voice to create a pleasant dissonance. For the most part these are full fledged folk songs, a far cry from the thousands of solo artists out there with an acoustic guitar. You Get What You Give is reminiscent of Hot Water Music, while Come Around is a respectable country song. While he may have his roots in the Florida punk scene, this album owes more to Tennessee than the Sunshine State. He has transcended the solo artist moniker to become a legitimate folk musician. During the love song Wish on the Moon he samples Elvis Presley. The harmonica that has been loved by everyone from Dylan to Woodie Guthrie shows up on Seems We’re OK. The hidden track at the end of the album is a beautiful quiet ballad, with simple melodies and the cleanest vocals of Ragan’s career.
What helps elevate this album above his previous releases is the musicians that he collaborates with. Frank Turner, Brian Fallon and Audra Mae all make appearances, while the fiddle and stand up bass help to give his songs body. Add to this his heartfelt lyrics and consistently great voice and this becomes a great collection of songs. Not only has he released his best solo album to date, he has released his best piece of music ever. It is by no means perfect (Right As Rain comes across as sludge folk, painfully dragging on and on, while Valentine fails to be memorable after multiple listens), but Covering Ground is a great folk album from a great artist.