Bradley Hathaway - A Thousand Angry Panthers
Record Label: None
Release Date: July 1, 2010
From the audacious, dedicated kid who brought us that beloved poem “The Annoying Hardcore Dude That Goes Too Far” now comes A Thousand Angry Panthers: a darkly transparent and personal 4-track EP. It’s the latest project from Goshen, Arkansas’s passionate troubadour Bradley Hathaway – the third since he left his spoken word roots to pursue his talents in folk. Here, Hathaway comes down with a hard case of the blues as he journals about the predicaments and tragedies of an agnostic world; any doubt he’s a troubled soul dissipates when he howls “The world is screamin’” over epic, whirring guitars on the closing song. It’s almost a breath of fresh air; with Elliott Smith having passed on, and Conor Oberst writing progressively brighter tunes, it’s been a while since we’ve heard such desperation come out of this neck of the woods.
One thing you’ll notice is that Hathaway hasn’t changed his songwriting style much from his The Thing That Poets Write About The Thing That Singers Sing About era. Like the majority of folk artists in history, he opts for simplicity in melody (most songs on the EP are 4-chord brooders), though his music as a standalone continues to lack the memorable quality others have successfully captured.
Nevertheless, Hathaway once again rescues his songs by pairing them with vivid lyrics. On A Thousand Angry Panthers, he sings about an expansive range of deeply personal things: his lover’s turbulent relationship with an abusive and mentally ill father, his grandmother’s concluding moments on earth, and a series of disheartening observations about the type of people that are all too common in modern society (“a little girl touched in places she should never be, a little boy left to live alone in the street / a wife that doesn’t know how to be faithful, and a husband that doesn’t know how to keep his cool”). Yet he’s at his most charismatic when he traces the root of all these problems to one issue: “We’re all waiting for a messiah to come, but we can’t agree on who he is or which is the one.”
Hathaway, however, finds his messiah in Jesus, as do many of the characters in these songs. Listeners who are turned off by straightforward religious messages won’t find solace here, unless they can rise above their aversion and appreciate that he arrives at his conclusion as a result of authentic faith rather than relentless indoctrination. Hathaway probably doesn’t care that he’s steering away a potential audience, though, because in the end, A Thousand Angry Panthers is about something much more important than fan support – it’s about finding peace and release for the broken people he sings about. And if he can achieve that through turning to Jesus, does it really matter what the critics think? “I’d fight a thousand angry panthers screaming in the night if it meant you would be kept safe and sound and alright,” he croons in “Would You Think Less of Me,” and we believe him without a second guess.