Life on the road is an integral part of being in a punk band, and it's the place where most of a band's memories are created - their best and their worst. This is why so many bands have composed amazing road anthems, and why Chuck Ragan has created Covering Ground, an album devoted entirely to songs written on or about the road.
While best known as the vocalist who made his name supplying the gritty vocals to the punk outfit Hot Water Music, the past few years have found him on the same path as musicians like Frank Turner, Mike Hererra and Ben Nichols, trading in the aggression for folk-inspired lyricism, allowing a new sound to showcase his abilities as a songwriter tempered by starting out in a punk rock band, a sound that's not tainted by the idea that "twang" is a dirty word.
For Covering Ground, his third full-length solo album, he has enlisted the aid of Jon Gaunt (fiddle) andJoe Ginsberg (upright bass), as well as a slew of guest musicians and vocalists including Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon, Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Chris Phillips, and Frank Turner, to release an album deeply rooted in folk and Americana. It's not the sort of thing that Hot Water Music fans would have seemed to be able to transition to, or hardcore fans in general, but like his previous solo efforts, his showcased ability as a musician seems to prevent any longtime fans of his work from wistfully longing for the good old angry days of Ragan's music.
In fact, it's to the perspective of a longtime fan that Covering Ground makes the most sense. To the average fan of Americana music, Ragan isn't quite accessible, exuding perhaps a bit too much energy and delivering soulful words with vocal chords that seem a bit too scarred to be real. But it's the punk rocker that's made the transitions with Ragan that will relate best to the record.
When Ragan sings "Some may say I'm a nomad by fate, tempered from the road right after being forged in flames,"on "Nomad By Fate," it's the sort of unapproachable line that seems steeped in melodrama unless you know that it's pretty damn apt. And on "Wish On The Moon," when Ragan declares, "Got some good times, 10 cylinders that fire and a woman at the end of the road, chasing down a dream, running hard and clean with a worn out old radio," only to follow it up with a quick Elvis reference, he has created one of those perfect images forged from the memories of musicians who've spent too much time on the road, clawing for the kind of success that can only be created by years of hard touring.
It's recent and not-so-recent trend for a ton of punk and hardcore frontmen to reinvent themselves in the vein of the folk troubadour, and some like Frank Turner accomplish it admirably, while some, like Walter Schreifels, fall short. Ragan fits snugly on the list of those who are doing it right.
Sometimes you have to set aside the aggression and realize that there is a beautiful punk soul to American music, and that there's definitely a connection to be had between the crusties and the folksies. Ragan has found that connection somewhere on the highway and happily he's been able to share the connection with us.
Released September 13, 2011