Chuck Ragan – “Gold Country”

Perhaps better known for his daytime work as the frontman of punk band Hot Water Music, Chuck Ragan has also made a career for himself with his own blend of country folk punk in his spare time. I first saw Chuck Ragan support The Gaslight Anthem (which is fitting since they’re both signed to Side One Dummy Records) and liked his unique sound so much I thought I’d give his record a go, and Gold Country is Chuck Ragan’s latest and most popular album release.

What Chuck Ragan does on this, his solo project, can’t really be categorised into any one particular brand of music. There’s a lot of country, some blues, some acoustic, but then every so often there’s this uplifting little twist of punk which adds some bounce to the songs and gives you something you don’t expect. So to say that Gold Country is a blues record would be wrong, as would saying it’s a punk record, because its neither of them and yet both at the same time.

There’s an eclectic mix of different sounds on Gold Country, but opening the record is For Goodness Sake which is simply Chuck Ragan and a guitar creating a beautiful flowing introduction to the album. The next couple of songs are probably not the best ones on the album, but that perhaps because they’re a little slower than what you first expect from the album. But all of that changes when you start hearing the intro’s to Done and Done, a particular favourite of mine from this album with lyrics like “wake up now we’ve got to go, somewhere higher’s all I know. Leave behind the walking dead, leave the mess don’t make the bed”, The Trench and, a bit later, Cut Em Down which pick up a little bit with a twist of some punk rock added to the mix of bluegrass and violin from Jon Gaunt (the other creative half of the general project). These songs seem to be a bit closer to home for what Chuck Ragan normally does, and you can tell that from how good they sound and how they add something new to the mix of songs.

Some of the other songs take on a softer sound and have a lot of tender, meaningful lyrics coming from the heart. 10 West is a song about his longing to settle down somewhere in California with its lyrics like “I’m heading to your mountains, through your rivers, onto your sea. And I’ll make it only if I stay rolling.” This is followed by Ole Diesel, another ballad-y song and then later on by Let It Rain, a song quite clearly dedicated to Chuck Ragan’s wife.

Quite a few of the songs on Gold Country clearly take their influence from some older artists, which is probably why Chuck Ragan is detaching himself from his punk roots more and indulging himself in more folk-like influences. There’s an undeniable influence of Johnny Cash on Rotterdam that you’d be crazy to ignore, and the country roots are also evident on Good Enough For Rock And Roll and Don’t Say A Word. The slower songs like these contrast well with the more energetic ones, as it then makes it more of a mix of different kinds of folk ranging from bluegrass to country to a bouncier kind of folk, showing how versatile Chuck Ragan can make one kind of genre.

The album closer Get Em All Home is a pretty touching song clearly written about bringing troops in service home safely with the line “And all I can do is pray that the world will see what this war costs”. It’s a nice way of rounding off an album like this, but why there’s a 30 minute loop of a roaring log fire sound running afterwards isn’t explained. Surely that’s going to mess with a few people’s MP3 players. Who knows, maybe that’s the reason!

Gold Country is generally quite an inventive album, and takes you through a range of different feelings. Some parts are a little too country-style for my taste, with that twang-y, electric-y slide guitar sound going in the back of some songs, but some of the others will be easy to like if (like me you already like The Gaslight Anthem and Frank Turner as there is definitely similar vibes going on!

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