Review: “Covering Ground” by Chuck Ragan
If you have followed the punk scene to any degree for the past ten years or more, you are undoubtedly familiar with the name Chuck Ragan. If not, I would wager you have at least heard mention of the long-standing punk rock quartet Hot Water Music, of which Chuck Ragan has been a key member since 1993. After all, Hot Water Music is the band to which most people associate his name. Hell, maybe they were, or still are, one of your favorites. Either way, you may or may not have also heard of Chuck Ragan’s solo project, for which he simply goes by his own name.
This solo project of Ragan’s strays rather far from the punk rock sound for which his band Hot Water Music has become so well known over the years; instead he has created his very own stripped-down acoustic sound based primarily on certain elements of folk and alt-country. It’s a way to disengage from the full band lineup and stand on his own; relying entirely on his fingers and voice to carry forth his music to the audiences he plays for. There is no one to hide behind, no feedback or distortion in which to lose one’s mistakes, no percussion to assist with timing, and the like. Rather, it is the type of endeavor which fully reveals the singer/songwriter for what he is truly worth.
Speaking of his worth… Ragan has only just released his new full-length studio album, Covering Ground, on SideOneSummy and TenFour Records. He has given these ten new songs his all, Ragan has, with his smoky, whiskey-drenched, Springsteen-esque vocals, the strumming of his acoustic guitar, and the accompanying instrumentation of a couple fellow musicians. Mostly what one hears when listening to this album is Ragan’s guitar playing and singing, backed by a good bit of fiddle and upright bass and some additional vocals. This time around, with Covering Ground, Ragan fully establishes himself as a modern day troubadour whose solo songs are collectively, arguably, the most important thing he has done to date, musically speaking. And taking into account his punk rock history, it is Ragan’s solo material that will ultimately prove wholly meaningful and timeless.
Chuck Ragan’s solo project isn’t his first foray into folk and alt-country territory, as there was a rather brief time toward the end of the 90s when Ragan teamed up with fellow Hot Water Music member Chris Wollard, as well as vocalist Samantha Jones, for a project called Rumbleseat. Unfortunately Rumbleseat was a very short-lived endeavor for the trio, lasting for only a year or thereabouts, culminating in a their final album Rumbleseat is Dead. And while Rumbleseat was met with some success in the beginning, it wasn’t until later that they were rediscovered by the new generation and considered one of the bands to usher in the present age of folk-punk artists and the like. And now as a solo singer/songwriter, Ragan is walking a similar path, though in a more traditional and purist sense.
Covering Ground is Ragan’s third full-length studio album since 2007 as a solo singer/songwriter, not couting his splits and collaborative releases with singer/songwriters such as Tim Barry, Ben Nichols, and Austin Lucas. This one, like the others, certainly shows his dedication to his craft, as well as his evolution as an artist, only more than ever. There are some backing musicians featured on Covering Ground — fiddle player Jon Gaunt and bassist Joe Ginsberg –, in addition to a few notable guest artists, such as Brian Fallon (Gaslight Anthem), Chris Thorn (Blind Melon), Audra Mae, Chris Phillips (Squirrel Nut Zippers), and Frank Turner.
As far as the standout tracks on the album, I have to admit they all seem to standout equally. Be that as it may, I am personally fond of a small handful of the songs, like the opener “Nothing Left to Prove,” the road song “Nomad by Fate,” the cinematic “Seems We’re Ok,” the overlapping male and female vocals of “Valentine,” and the full-of-feeling folk of “Meet You in the Middle.” Overall, though, it is an exceptionally solid collection of original songs.
Covering Ground’s street date is set for September 11th, which is right around the corner. You can pre-order your copy from SideOneDummy Records, wait to get your hands on a copy once it’s released, or pick one up at one of Ragan’s shows.