Chuck Ragan - Gold Country

04 January, 2012

By Red


You know that feeling when it's pissing down with rain, when it's cold, dark, and windy outside, (in London we call that "the weekend") but you're somewhere cosy, warm, safe, and comfortable (we call that "the pub") with your closest friends, and it feels like even though the world is ending there's nowhere else you'd rather be? That's what listening to Chuck Ragan's 'Gold Country' feels like.


Now don't get me wrong, I'm no fan of country music. I'm sure there's something to be said for flag-waving redneck hillbillies whining about how their goat left them for another man, but you won't hear it from me. I first heard of Chuck Ragan because he was the lead singer in a punk rock band called 'Hot Water Music'. All I really enjoyed about that band was his gravely, whisky-soaked, Tim Armstrong/Leonard Cohen-like voice, so when I heard he'd left the band to write a country album, I admit I cried a little inside.


In fairness, he wasn't the first to make the transition from punk singer to folk musician, as Frank Turner could testify. There must be something about getting older, possibly becoming a father, which tends to mellow you out. As demonstrated, for example, by the difference between Old Testament God and New Testament God. For Chuck Ragan, just like for New Testament God, this transition turned out to be a blessing.


His first album,"Feast or Famine", received critical acclaim on release and showed some extremely promising signs. I love it, and still listen to it regularly. But "Gold Country", his follow-up, is in my opinion his best album. It's still, at its core, just a guy with a guitar (but then Dylan was just a guy with a guitar, and so were Hendrix, Cash, etc...). But this time he's added percussions and some light backing vocals, and the result is more polished, more tuneful, more layered and more varied. The melodies range from eerily haunting, as on "Old Diesel", to ridiculously catchy, as on "10 West", while always remaining, well, country. It's raw. It's soulful. It's sometimes moving, and sometimes exhilarating.


Maybe, just maybe, I would've arranged the tracks differently, as the first two are possibly the hardest to get into. I also miss the political angle that was present on "Feast or Famine", but some would find this absence a positive thing. The final flaw, and that one gets me as pissed off as Old Testament God, is that the last track has a 'hidden song',(is there more 90s concept than 'hidden songs' at the end of albums?) after a 20 minute silence at the end of the last track . And when I'm playing Chuck Ragan tracks on 'shuffle' on my phone and that song comes on, it makes me want to nuke Sodom and Gomorrah all over again. Maybe that's just me, though.


If the lyrics are less political than on 'Feast or Famine', they nonetheless retain a certain poetry ('Our days are numbered surely, this breath will soon be passing/just like as the wind in the mountains, carries the dust of the wanted' on Glory), a certain nostalgia (Now call me crazy but all the old ways/of living simple are simply fading/and all we buy is time, before we die/lay on down, desensitisedon on For Goodness Sake) and a sense of life-affirmation (I can't stand feeling nothing, I can't stand feeling old, I can't stand standing for nothing when standing up is all I know  on California Burritos). It's an accomplished, polished, tuneful and beautiful post-hardcore country record from a world-weary traveller.  





Primary Genre: Rock

Subgenre: Country

Release Date: 1 September 2009

Label: Side One Dummy

Influences: Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie, Leonard Cohen

Like This And You'll Probably Also Like: Hot Water Music, Drag The River

Album Highlights: Ole Diesel, Glory, Rotterdam




  Chuck Ragan2








"I have to be honest, I didn't know a lot about Chuck Ragan until Red brought him to my attention not so long ago. Suffice it to say that I've seen the light with this album and I will definitely be returning to it a lot. Great stuff, 7.5/10"



Chuck Ragan - Gold Country




Contributor mini-profile



6 Fluffy Reviews
"From the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing can ever be made"
Mini bio
Half Iroquois Chief, half Shaolin monk, a quarter Jewish, and a bit of French. Currently auditioning to play a cat in the musical: 'Punk Rock - Anarchy in the EU?
Favourite Bands / Artists
Chuck Ragan
Leonard Cohen
Smashing Pumpkins
Pearl Jam
Ben Harper
Ernest Ranglin