Music News

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.
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John La Briola