Hamell on Trial

The Happiest Man in the World

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Some folks just have a talent for ranting, and 25 years after he released his first album, Ed Hamell, the one-man band who does business as Hamell on Trial, still sounds like he's having a glorious time shooting his mouth off on The Happiest Man in the World, his first album for New West Records. Actually, by Hamell's standards, he doesn't sound all that aggravated here; "Richard's Got a Job" sounds practically jaunty as Hamell celebrates the fact that one of his friends is finally working, "Artist in America" gives an enthusiastic high-five to the curative powers of music, and the title song sounds somewhat sincere as he tries to look at the sunny side in tough times ("You're rich as a king -- you just ain't got no money!"). But tough times are Hamell's bread and butter, and The Happiest Man in the World finds him taking sharply satiric aim at a world where the culture and the economy seem to conspire against people at every turn. Hamell spins stories of guys who've fallen to the wrong side of the law ("Bobby and the Russians"), women using their bodies to make ends meet ("Jennifer's Stripping Again"), the underclass versus the wealthy and powerful ("Whores"), and the overall sad state of the Land of the Free ("Global Tattoo"). While there's plenty here that bugs Hamell, he can at least approach it with a smile (more like a smirk, but hey, it's something), and his vocals are sharp with a good supply of swagger, especially on "Lappa Ou Mau Mau" and "Global Tattoo." If his riff on an elderly couple in "Together" seems a touch cruel, he evens the score with the more somber meditation on the same themes in "Ain't That Love." The production gives the songs plenty of muscle, and if you just want a rude joke, "Mom's Hot" more than qualifies. As Joe Strummer told us, anger can be power, and Hamell on Trial still has a full tank of the stuff cut with some snarky but potent humor, and it fuels The Happiest Man in the World very well indeed.

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