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Critic's Choice

The next time the sky cracks open and hails bloody murder, conjure up heavenly angels spitting over the rail. That's something Ed Hamell is good at doing. A brutally frank songwriter from Syracuse, New York, the narrative-based guitar slinger works exclusively from a jet-black palette -- imagining, for example, the late Matthew Shepard, slain cross-dresser Tina Brandon and punk martyr Brian Deneke all looking down from the great beyond, sharing a heavenly cup of joe, quietly acknowledging "We can be who we want to be" and then lettin' one fly (from "Hail"). During more energetic outbursts, Hamell on Trial -- opening for Ani Di Franco Thursday, October 16, at the Paramount Theatre, and Friday, October 17, at the Glenn Miller Ballroom on Boulder's CU Campus -- thankfully kicks sensitive coffee-house balladry squarely in the ass. Armed with a 1937 small-body acoustic Gibson, an unrelenting strumming hand and lyrical integrity to match that of Phil Ochs, Billy Bragg or Lou Reed, this high-intensity performer (and ex-frontman for the Works) simultaneously amuses while giving voice to the disenfranchised. Touring on the strength of his fifth full-length, Tough Love (on Righteous Babe), Hamell mixes politics, the Ten Commandments, drug dealers, road trips, sex and worry warts into an intoxicating, confessional spoken-sung brand of anti-folk. Fully recovered from head and spinal injuries suffered in a 2000 car accident (which provides the grist for "Downs," a mesmerizing, autobiographical scorcher that includes the line "I thanked God for what I had/And what they had prescribed"), the monthly columnist for Uncut magazine finds himself braced for more than just another head-on collision: Razzing Prince, Hamell once summed up his own underground, legendary status, saying, "If I get famous enough, I'm gonna change my name to a physical gesture." Now, that's rock and roll, ladies and germs.