Feast or FamineSideOneDummy Records
By Bobby Gorman
Chuck Ragan forged a name for himself with countless tours and records with his former act, Hot Water Music. When that endeavor was put to rest, Ragan went out on his own to create more folk-oriented, blue grass music which quickly garner energetic buzz through the internet thanks to his passionate live performances scattered across California. The buzz grew so much that SideOneDummy decided the first proper introduction to the now solo performer should be a live record. Thus, Los Feliz was released documenting one of Ragan‘s early performances; that was, of course, quickly followed by this: Feast Or Famine – the first solo studio album from the celebrated musician.
Now, six of these songs were previously released on Los Feliz so those don’t offer much as far as new material goes; however, it is nice to hear the slightly reworked versions. I still think Symmetry is one of the weaker tracks on the album (just like it was on Los Feliz) but Do You Pray soars to new heights with a much more pronounced blue grass feel and the perfectly placed female vocals shadowing Ragan softly in the background during the chorus that add a great layer to an already amazing track. The Boat is still a driving song with a heavier musical backdrop but Ragan‘s beer worn vocals are still the main force leading the song and pulling the listener into the album – just like it was on Los Feliz and I still like For Broken Ears just as much as I did previously.
The six new tracks follow in the same general format that was first introduced by Ragan in his live album as they are folk inspired, blue-collar anthems led mainly by his worn out vocals and acoustic guitar but supported quite solidly by instruments such as the mouth organ, violin and mandolin. Geraldine is a slow moving love song full to the rim of soaring violin melodies and the aforementioned female vocals scattered softly in the background creating a perfect contrast that holds the song together once again. On Hearts of Stone, Ragan borrows from Greg Graffin and Don’t Cry (easily one of the standouts on the record) is a faster song with a heavier, darker tone to it and a full mass of instruments with two guitars and a mouth organ. The vocals are passionate and pull the listener in and throws the listener into the final half of the record with hopes held high. Feast or Famine ends it all with Do What You Do, a passionate track with a uniquely tuned guitar that somehow summarizes the entire album perfectly.
The record is a very solid release. While not as energetic as Hot Water Music and maybe not as emotional as his live album was, Feast Or Famine is a sincere, honest, folk, blue grass record with Ragan‘s signature vocals and amazing lyrics. If you liked Los Feliz, Tim Barry‘s Rivanna Junction or Greg Graffin‘s Cold As Clay, then this will be right up your alley.