Chuck Ragan

Till Midnight

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Since 2007's Los Feliz, singer/songwriter Chuck Ragan has established a reputation for delivering intimate, lonesome tunes as a primarily acoustic troubadour -- even when backed by a band. Till Midnight is a rock & roll changeup. Here the singer/songwriter is backed by his longstanding backing group, the Camaraderie. He also gets some help from producer Christopher Thorn, Rami Jaffee, and a handful of backing vocalists. Hope, faith, the desire for community and deeply connected relationships link these tunes thematically. Musically, Ragan's inspirational sources are self evident -- perhaps too much so. One can readily hear Bruce Springsteen's anthemic, hooky choruses in songs such as "Vagabond" and "Non Typical" -- the latter like something off The Seeger Sessions with mostly electric instruments save for Jon Gaunt's wailing fiddle. In "Bedroll Lullaby," the same fiddle approximates the Celtic soul of Dexys Midnight Runners more than it does the Irish rock of Flogging Molly, and weds Americana rock to folk tradition. "Gave My Heart Out" recalls Willie Nile's melodic sensibility and streetwise attack with different instrumental colors. Frantic acoustic guitars, snare, whining pedal steel and fiddle drive "Revved," but there's so much Springsteen in the melody and stacked vocal harmonies that the only trace of Ragan remains in his heart-on-his-sleeve delivery. "Wake with You" is a lovely, lilting country song whose intro suggests Neil Young's "Love Is a Rose," though its melody is pure Ragan. The elegant arco bass and pedal steel interplay counter his ragged vocal. "Whistleblowers Song" has an urgent minor-key Celtic rock attack and contains some of the set's finest lyrics. The best is saved for last in "For All We Care." It commences with a fingerpicked acoustic guitar, graceful bowed upright bass, and pedal steel, which help to erect an atmospheric platform. They build gradually until fiddle, electric guitars, and drums rush in and it erupts with a backing chorus buoying Ragan. Despite using his influences too liberally, Till Midnight is a strong set. There are few recordings with so much seasoned, lived-in optimism at their core. Ragan's insightful writing lends itself to both anthems and love songs, revealing the singer/songwriter's maturity and savvy. He just needs to trust his vision more.

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