REVIEW album Old Subbacultcha Old Subbacultcha

Hot Water Music's Chuck Ragan returns with Til Midnight

Old Subbacultcha

Old Subbacultcha

And for his next trick, Charles will bring Americana slap-bang into the present day...


Since the former Hot Water Music frontman put his activities with that band on hiatus and embarked on a solo career, the results have been encouraging. Few artists could have left a band with such a distinctive and developed sound to trot out numbers like “Do You Pray” or “The Boat” which only require an acoustic guitar and his voice to seem fully-formed, such was the strength and purity of their brilliantly simple structures. Ragan not only did it, but made it seem like the easiest, most natural thing in the world. On “Til Midnight”, his fourth solo effort, he seems to have made another turn; while the folk elements from his earlier records remain intact, this music features fiddle, drums and plenty of slide guitar. The result perfectly frames some of his most brilliant songwriting yet, even if at times it can sound like he is locked in battle with Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon to finally determine who gets to be considered the definitive heir to Bruce Springsteen. Me? I don’t think The Boss is quite ready to relinquish his throne to anyone just yet, but admire the skill Ragan brings to his task. On this form, he certainly deserves to be considered among the best and most emotive songwriters in modern music. Take the closer “For All We Care” – let yourself fall under this songs’ spell and it can move you as much as any hymn. “You And I Alone” is a paean to a longed-for lover full of verve and yearning. “Something May Catch Fire” builds to a storming crescendo and sets a marker the rest of the record matches, and “Non-Typical”’s refrain “
I need you, like I need all my blood and my bones” is not just one of the best lines Ragan has written to date, but forms one of his melodically-strongest choruses to boot. Filled with a fey spirit and a hearkening for the true, blue-collar American working class, “Til Midnight” bears comparison with the very best Ragan has delivered so far. 8/10