Tapping Into the Spirit: Chuck Ragan, September 18 at the Redstone Room Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 05 September 2013 08:52

Chuck Ragan. Photo by Tom Stone.

When Chuck Ragan stops in Davenport later this month, his fans shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see him. He’s not likely to announce his retirement from touring any time soon, but he’s regularly talked about the difficulties of being a touring musician and the price that families pay.

And he said in a phone interview last week that someday he will hang up his guitar to spend more time with his family. “Absolutely,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of musicians would say the exact opposite. … [But] I really look forward to that in a huge way. And I don’t know when that is. ... I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with touring and the road. It does take a massive toll. But I think it takes more of a toll on our loved ones, who are on the other side of it.”

Ragan is not, I stress, stepping out of the spotlight soon – which should be apparent from both his recent activity and his plans.

He released his latest folk solo album Covering Ground in 2011, and his post-punk band Hot Water Music released its first new music in eight years with Exister in 2012. Both albums are supremely accomplished, tuneful, and comfortable, and even though they showcase Ragan’s radically dual nature, his throaty, nothing-held-back voice unifies them. The singer/songwriter/guitarist has since 2008 also organized and participated in his Revival Tour of acoustic performers.

His solo career and the Revival tours – both started in the wake of Hot Water Music’s 2006-announced hiatus – “are two full-time jobs as it is,” Ragan said. “I took on the Hot Water stuff [with recording Exister and supporting it on the road], and it was pretty overwhelming.”

But he’s not slowing down much. He said that Hot Water Music will likely be doing something for its 20th anniversary in the fall of 2014. And Ragan is working on a new solo album – with his Redstone Room gig being a fruit of its development process.

Ragan will be performing with longtime collaborators Jon Gaunt (on fiddle) and Joe Ginsberg (on bass), but he’ll also be joined by Lucero’s Todd Beene (on pedal steel and guitar) and Social Distortion’s David Hidalgo Jr. (on drums).

That’s also the crew with which he’s recording his next album. When we talked, Ragan said they’d be heading into the studio in a few days.

“For the most part, it’s about the most prepared I’ve ever been” going into a record, he said. That’s partly about the state of the songs, but it’s also about the band.

The group initially got together for pre-production at Ragan’s house – honing the songs.

“Honestly, from that point, we just kind of put them aside and said, ‘All right, cool. Those are about as good as they’re going to get at this point,’” he said.

Then they hit Europe. “Even though we weren’t playing these new songs over and over again, ... spending time [together on tour] it just kind of solidified this combination of people. And whenever we would revisit some of these new songs ... , it just felt like we’d been playing them for 15 years.”

Past studio albums, he said, have been built up from basic guitar and vocal tracks – a process that Ragan called “hack[ing] away at it.”

“You can make great records that way,” he said. “But I always feel like you lose a little bit of that organic, natural vibe that you really can’t duplicate unless you get a group of people in the same room playing at the same time. They may be a little bit out of sync, the tempo may shift and move here and there, but it shifts and moves together.”

The bond among the current members of his band, he said, should be evident on the album. “There’s not a doubt in my mind that it’s most certainly going to feel different than the past records,” Ragan said. “We’re basically relying on this togetherness and this kind of union that we’ve just kind of grown with.”

This is an extension of Ragan’s clear fondness for live albums, which he said “tap into the spirit of that evening and that moment, right then and there. There’s never going to be another way that that will ever ever be duplicated in any way, shape, or form.”

Chuck Ragan will perform on Wednesday, September 18, at the Redstone Room (129 Main Street, Davenport; RiverMusicExperience.org). The 8:30 p.m. show also features Jamestown Revival, and tickets are $15.

For more information on Chuck Ragan, visit ChuckRaganMusic.com.

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