On November 1, Charlie Hager released Truth and Love, his second full-length album, on Flour Sack Cape Records. You how those mashed potatoes and greasy meatloaf give you that secure feeling of satisfaction and tastes so good. But you also know, that comfort food is just not very good for you. Truth and Love is kinda like that. This is back porch music at its finest. The steel guitar, C. J. Colandrea, fiddle, Daniel Foulks, keys, Benjamin Douglas, and muted trumpet, Robert Gay, are a fresh autumn breeze while the drums, Erin Nelson, bass and guitars – Joe Lekkas and Andrew Lipow – are the booze in the blender. But Hager’s song writing, and the harmonies provided by Ryan Dishen and Benjamin Douglas, are filled with a deeper darkness than a casual listen might suggest.
Charlie’s a man after my own heart, having put music aside to raise a family. But he’s come back strong with the help of the folks at Greenland Studios in East Nashville, TN. Hager claims that he was inspired to write this album by the infection of lying in politics. But only the title track seems to comment on that. The truth-and-love sentiment is heartfelt, but the message that you have to ignore your friends cause they think the world is flat makes you wonder – “why are they your friends?”
Much of the rest of the album is relationship based, perhaps hewing to his original idea of writing about his relationship with his ex-wife. And it’s pretty self-deprecating. “I suck for a lot of reasons, but I’ve been lucky to have a good women” captures the feel. One of the most successful tracks in this group is This Ain’t Love. It has a swaying island feel that uses Gay’s trumpet to great effect. Combined with Hager’s natural downhome tenor, it’s infectiously smile-inducing despite the tough lyric. The guitar intro and chorus to Big Star have a bit of the same feel, though that song is more solidly country with a trotting the horses feel.
For my money, Hager’s at his best when he writes with detail. She Wants to Believe is my favorite song on the album. It’s an interesting third-person point of view on a woman who meets this guy that she really likes. It’s lush with details that draw you in and make you listen with a keen ear. And the music is led by an alluring guitar note riff reminiscent of Springsteen’s One Step Up, and Two Steps Back. As is the cadence that Hagar uses for the vocal. And all the while, you wonder, is the singer the guy the girl wants to believe in? Does he know he’s going to hurt her? Hager works the same bit of alchemy on Trying to Lay the Blame, a mariachi-flavored song about a phony who may or may not be singing about himself.
Nothing to Do With You also highlights Hager’s talent for lyrical detail in what hits me as perhaps the saddest song I’ve ever heard. He describes a series of people challenged by life. I’m not sure I get the message. Maybe that’s not the point. It’s definitely a powerful song, but one that is both hard to listen to and hard not to appreciate. It takes guts to put out a song like that. Bravo.
The album wraps up with a sittin’-on-the-fence let’s-talk-this-out number – Stand a Chance at All – that’s just a bit more optimistic than it has a right to be . . . given the nine songs leading up to it. Like much of the album, it makes you feel good, though you know it probably shouldn’t. Mid-tempo country with some tasty fiddle and chord changes. I wish he’d started the album with it. Because by the end, it’s making me tear up a little because I know this character doesn’t stand a chance at all.
Learn more about Charlie Hager on his website. The album is a digital only release. Look for it (and buy it) wherever you download music.