As the frontman of Hot Water Music, you expect Chuck Ragan to be an angst-ridden misanthrope, but you’ll find a different man writing the tunes on his second solo album, Gold Country. Chuck has called this work some of the most mature music he has created to date, and such a statement is quite visible upon repeated listens.
As you begin listening to this album, you get the feeling that a lot of the songs are left over from the period when Chuck wrote Feast or Famine, his first solo outing. “For Goodness Sake” features his throaty vocals that bare witness to his past. Similarly, “Glory” has that old hoedown feeling, with a quick-step guitar strumming accompanied by an equally paced violin. But, you can notice stark differences on this go round–even by listening to these two songs. For one, both feature female backing vocals, adding a richer texture to the compositions, which makes them seem like more complete songs, as opposed to simple acoustic tracks. “Glory” also brings in a gang vocal of “al la las” near the end of the song. It’s these slight steps up that give brith to the maturity of which Mr. Ragan has spoken.
Some of the songs on this album also appear to wear the influence of Chuck flexing his muscle on the road with the Revival Tour, a collection of punk troubadours gone punk. Yes, Chuck already has an experience in this realm, but there are definite moments that recall Tom Gabel of Against Me, such as “Done and Done.” This is by no means a knock, but it demonstrates how experience can bleed into our musical development.
Listening to a song like “10 West” you begin to realize that you sort of feel a strong connection to the Chuck Ragan. He’s talking about some sort of roadtrip that recalls various memories, but the recording manner that involves multiple moments of gang vocals makes you feel as if you are at home with Chuck Ragan. You can feel yourself sitting in the room with him as he writes this song for you and all your memories.
And in the end of it all, this is a Chuck Ragan. The old screamer always seems to get personal when he picks up the acoustic, and his lyrics never seem to come off interesting. Most people might not call it the most remarkable thing ever, but you can see that he’s been making steps to progress, and most (like me) don’t even think he needs to. He’s included touches of piano, violin, femal backing vocals and other ornate details that add to the texture of this wonderful album. Gold Country is definitely an example of a growing Chuck Ragan.