Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hamell on Trial -- The Happiest Man in the World

I was first introduced to Ed Hamell's music during my pilgrimage to Nashville this summer. And really, there's nothing like seeing this guy live. Hamell has the ability to sear right to your core like the best gospel preacher, the panache of an old-time Broadway star, and the aggressive fireball energy of Danny DeVito. Truth be told, I avoided listening to the album for a long time -- how could anything match the near-religious experience of watching this guy shout, stomp, joke, and bust equipment through his sets on a lonely, rainy Nashville night?

To promote his tour, Hamell had his friends from his anti-folk years -- Kimya Dawson, Ani DiFranco, Henry Rollins -- talk him up in a promotional video. I felt a little suspicious of this marketing technique -- shouldn't the emphasis be on the  music? -- but it just speaks to the vicissitudes of the music industry that all of these other people got famous when Hamell could very much give them a run for his money. The Happiest Man in the World finds Hamell after the end of his 20+-year marriage, all but financially ruined by the Great Recession but the proud father of an amazing 12-year-old. (I met him and he is teacher-approved.) The title track is not ironic, and that's the thing that makes Hamell special.

There are lots of songs about feelings -- love, breakups, being strung out, etc. etc. But it takes a truly gifted artist to write a song that could only come from the special confluence of his/her/their brain and make those observations not only into words, but music, and music that's good to listen to. The songs are so full of individuality that the artist is nothing less than a force of personality. This is rare. He's able to take his unique experiences and universalize them, which is pretty much everybody on earth's goal, much less an artist's. As much as I love the twenty or so artists I write about regularly on here, there are only a few whom I'd put in that elite category, and Ed Hamell is a the top of the list.

Hamell on Trial -- Official, Facebook, Spotify, Purchase from New West Records, Amazon, iTunes

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