Chuck Ragan’s fourth solo studio album Till Midnight was released on 3/25/14 on SideOneDummy records and it is nothing short of my meteoric expectations. I’ll go out on a limb and bet it will be on my top five album list for 2014 and we’ve just only closed out the first quarter. Chuck is flanked by long-time compatriots The Camaraderie featuring Jon Gaunt on fiddle, Joe Ginsberg on bass, pedal steel powerhouse Todd Beene also playing some guitar and percussion, and Social Distortion’s Dave Hidalgo Jr. on the drum throne. These musicians alone are a cavalcade of talent but throw in Chuck Ragan’s soulful grizzly bear vocal delivery, flawless harp blowing, a little piano, and some of the most beautiful lyrics I’ve heard in a long, long time and not even the sky is the limit.
Todd Beene has procured a voice that is only his own on the pedal steel guitar. You can pick him out of a mix whether it’s with Glossary, Lucero, or Chuck. All of which are right up with the constant battle in my mind as to who my favorite band is. It’s refreshing as a guy who plays the pedal steel (not well by any means) to see and hear this guy from one band to another and always be able to say “That’s definitely Todd Beene on the pedal steel guitar”. There’s also a laundry list of guests on background vocals besides The Camaraderie on the new record as well, most of which are hidden well on the mix with the exception of Jenny O. Lucero front man Ben Nichols, Chad Price and Jon Snodgrass of Drag The River (another band in my ever present brain war), Dave Hause, Blind Melon’s Christopher Thorn, and Rami Jaffe who’s worked with both The Wallflowers and Foo Fighters all had a hand in this record. Chuck’s got a lot of friends and fans. From his post-hardcore band Hot Water Music, who just celebrated their 20th anniversary with a tour, to our Americana/Alt-Country sub-culture it’s only natural for a guy who has close to 30 years of experience in the music industry.
Till Midnight has too many highlight songs to even go through. My least favorite song opens the album, “Something May Catch Fire”, which I have nothing bad to write about other than I love every song that much more. “Vagabond” is a pedal steel laden ballad about “burning the pillars of tradition down” as a troubadour just moving along from city to city and tour to tour, something both Chuck and the rest of The Camaraderie know far too well I’m sure. “Non Typical” was the first single released a while back which is an up-tempo rocker highlighting Jon Gaunt’s fiddle-work and Chuck’s delivery of his heart-pouring lyrics no doubt written about his wife. “Bedroll Lullaby” is another rambler’s anthem that is a perfect example of the organic Americana concoction that Chuck Ragan and The Camaraderie have conjured up for this record. The journey of the record closes with three of my favorite efforts. “You and I Alone”, another heart happy ballad; “Whistleblower’s Song” the tip of which is a punk rock sing-a-long chorus that makes you happy to be a tattooed, music obsessed, Americana Rock fan; and the closer “For All We Care” which seems as much a eulogy to the end of the album as it is an uplifting reminder to “drown out the sanctified stench of stale air”. How much better of an ending to a record can you ask for?
You can envision Chuck Ragan fishing or spending time with his two Labrador Retrievers near his Lake Tahoe home this entire album. As mentioned before, there is no doubt in my mind that this will be on at least my top five album list for 2014. Make sure you get out now and go see some soul-cleansing live music in the form of Chuck and The Camaraderie who just kicked off their tour to support Till Midnight. I’ll be there 4/19/14 at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ, coincidentally getting my soul cleansed the Saturday before Easter. That’s my church.
+Words: Scott Zuppardo+