Chuck Ragan - Los Feliz Record Label: Side One Dummy
Release Date: May 8, 2007
The hit to miss ratio of live albums is usually pretty low. If I wanted a crappy recording of a greatest hits album, I’d bootleg a concert myself. At least I’d get the full experience; fellow sweaty concert-goers, brain-dead crowd-surfers, screaming pre-teen girls, the whole lot. The problem with live albums is that they rarely add anything worthwhile to the original songs. Sure, there’s a slightly changed verse here, an extended outro there, and jokes about boobs and wieners and sex with others’ grandmother’s daughters inserted at random. Largely, they’re not worth listening to and certainly not worth buying. Ex Hot Water Music front-man, Chuck Ragan, seems to have solved the problems that are encountered when releasing a live recording. First of all, people have to listen to Los Feliz because it’s his only available material - one can’t whine about the quality of the songs when there are no studio versions available. Secondly, the album was recorded at a small, intimate venue with what sounds like less than 30 people. The crowd actually adds to the experience. Who’d a thunk? Stir an influential, respected artist into that mix, bake at 350 degrees for 44 minutes, and you have one heck of a live album.
HWM fans know that Ragan’s voice is, simply put, something else. It’s not perfect; I doubt very much that he has had vocal lessons of any kind, but that sandpaper growl can send chills up and down my spine every time. These same fans will be sure to be overcome with nostalgia when they hear Ragan’s acoustic cover of Hot Water Music’s “God Deciding”. He manages to convey an almost inhuman amount of emotion in his voice. As if he puts everything he has into every syllable.
While some songs could possibly find a home on a Hot Water Music album, Los Feliz finds Ragan taking more of a country-folk route. However, a couple songs are a little too honky-tonk even for me and my redneck roots (“Dream of a Miner’s Child”, “What You Will”), but if that’s your thing, then go nuts. Ragan communicates a sense of intimacy with this album and one feels like Los Feliz is a window into his personal life. He’s got a love song to his wife on there (this song would melt my pants away, and I’m a dude), a retirement gift to his father in law (“Congratulations Joe”), his close friends and family are with him in the audience... it’s a truly unique experience.
Manned only with an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, and the occasional fiddle and mandolin accompaniment (provided by friends, John Guant and Ted Hutt), Chuck Ragan has managed to release one of the best albums of the year and one of my favourite live albums ever. The personal shout-outs he makes, the hoots, hollers, and applause that break out during the climax of songs, that awkward moment when one person claps one beat more than everyone else, minor screw-ups, and a load of raw emotion make this album worth listening to. Pick it up.