Hamell on Trial

The Chord Is Mightier Than the Sword

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By the time Ed Hamell issued his first album actually recorded under the auspices of a major label, "rock," as a description of one's musical style, was no longer a desirable term with which to be labeled. The Austin-by-way-of-Syracuse performer couldn't have cared less: On The Chord Is Mightier Than the Sword, Hamell wore that particular badge proudly. Those who knew him as an acoustic guitar-toting solo act might have been perplexed at his decision to enlist a full backing band, but it turned out that the disc's fuller production neither dulled Hamell's word-salad verbal delivery nor overshadowed his one-of-a-kind instrumental attack. To the contrary, the support musicians give his mesmerizing spoken-sung narrative "The Vines" extra weight, the percussion echoing the Army drill monotony of the song's subject. What's most appealing, though, is Hamell's unabashed truthfulness; many of the songs seem to flow from his own experiences, and he's as candid declaring that he misses a friend who's moved away ("In a Bar") as he is singing about fighting off his insecurities ("Decisions"). Where some artists influenced by such punk-leaning acts as the Stooges and the MC5 might be loath to mention that they also adore John Lennon and Muddy Waters, Hamell isn't afraid to commemorate his rootsier heroes in song. He wraps it all up with a solo slide guitar workout, "The Meeting," that's the closest thing to a mission statement he's ever likely to record: "One guy and one guitar/So it's gotta be folk?/Oh man, how wrong they are." With those words, Hamell defined himself better than anyone else's descriptors ever could.

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