Along with being America's hardest-rocking two-man band, Local H deserve a great deal more credit than they get for keeping the rich tradition of the concept album alive. From 1996's As Good as Dead onward, most of Local H's albums have been centered around a particular theme -- small-town losers, a rock band's failed bid for the big time, a relationship on the skids -- and if they don't usually have a proper narrative, the ebb and flow of the songs equals significantly more than the sum of their parts. Most of Local H's albums have involved the travails of frontman Scott Lucas or an unreliable narrator much like him, but 2012's Hallelujah! I'm a Bum finds him aiming for a bigger, more inclusive story. Hallelujah! I'm a Bum is a mordant study of the State of the Union, a snapshot of American life as lived in Chicago, Illinois in 2012, and in Lucas' view, it pretty much stinks. Education is a bad joke, the economy is in tatters, politicians prefer to generate facile sound bites (a number of which are included here) than confront the country's problems, the divide between the haves and the have-nots grows wider every day, and there's not much an average Joe can do but stand back and watch it all run down as the tension and chaos invade nearly aspect of his life. Hallelujah! I'm a Bum arrives in an election year, but Lucas doesn't play favorites in these songs; while "They Saved Reagan's Brain" and "Limit Your Change" heap plenty of scorn on the GOP (the latter includes audio of Mitt Romney mentioning how much he enjoys firing people), the closer "Waves Again" includes the pointed line "Your superman/He says Yes, We Can/But we're grains of sand," suggesting he doesn't have much faith in the Democrats, either. The articulate bile of this album's lyrics is a good match for the music, which is the most ambitious Local H has recorded to date. Working with producer Sanford Parker, multi-instrumentalist Lucas and drummer Brian St. Clair have expanded their aural palette on this album, adding horns on several cuts, easing down to a mournful country shuffle for the title number, and putting a greater emphasis on atmospherics than in their trademark no-frills hard rock attack. But Lucas and St. Clair still hit like a ten-pound hammer on these songs, and the layering of one track into another only adds to their collective impact as this cycle of songs winds to a close after almost 70 minutes. Nearly 20 years into their recording career, Local H are not only still making great music, but have released their bravest, most provocative, and most ambitious album to date, and Hallelujah! I'm a Bum is a powerful look into a side of America that will be uncomfortably familiar to nearly everyone who hears it.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming