SplitSpecialist Subject Records
By Dustin Blumhagen
In celebration of recent tour dates in the UK, Chuck Ragan has released a split LP with 3 English artists that he has played with on previous rounds through the country. Starting things off is Chuck himself, contributing 3 cover songs, including one by Leatherface with his Hot Water Music bandmate Chris Wollard. Of the three songs, this is easily the best. Both of the other songs are slow songs that could be considered at best B-side quality recordings. It is understandable that Ragan would not want to release his best material on a small pressing LP, but it almost feels like he wanted to use his name as a vehicle to introduce people to some obscure English artists without worrying about overshadowing them too much. It just hurts that Ragan would release something so mediocre.
Next up is a trio of songs from Sam Russo. Rattling Keys is vaguely reminiscent of a Gaslight Anthem ballad, but his thick accent is distracting. After the disappointment of the first three songs, these throwaway tracks are almost heartbreaking.
The redemption comes in the second half of the album, starting with Jimmy Islip. Starting with 1990, he kicks things off with some uptempo folk punk sure to bring a smile to the faces of devout Frank Turnerfans. Fortune Teller slows things down a bit and suffers with the decrease in tempo, but Big Heart keeps things going with more English high speed folk. Islip is a great find for listeners on the other side of the pond.
The closing tracks come from the lone female, Helen Chambers. Female folk artists seem to receive less recognition than their male counterparts, but if this is because of a male domination conspiracy, then feminists have found their revolutionary heavyweight firepower in Chambers. Her strong voice exhibits a slight warble in Biding My Time bringing to mind the legendary Buffy St. Marie in her prime. She overshadows all of the men on the album, even during the simple quiet Paper & Glue. But where she really shines is on the final track, Speak Your Name, an acapella song with an Appalachian folk sound that sends shivers down your spine.
This limited LP may be a stretch for punk fans with only a passing interest in the current crop of gritty folk artists, but for fans with an open mind and a keen ear, Jimmy Islip and Helen Chambers provide some high quality music. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the first half of the album.