777” Vol.006

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

It's a good time to be into punk rock. Oh sure, the scene is still dishing out the goods like it always has, and yes, the vinyl is as plentiful as in the 'golden years,' but those tuned into the scene right now get to experience something altogether baffling; punk rockers going the folk singer/songwriter route…solo. It's happening everywhere; Joey Cape, Tony Sly, Nathan Maxwell, Ben Nichols, Tim Barry, Chris Wollard, and most notably to this column, Chuck Ragan. There's even a label catering almost exclusively to this movement (Suburban Home/Vinyl Collective ahoy!). 

Chuck Ragan (of Hot Water Music fame) is one of the first to make the transition and also my favorite. Having released Feast or Famine (a personal favorite) in 2007, Gold Country last year, and a slew of 7"s, it's only appropriate to highlight the man in this column. Punk rock used to be all about DIY aggression and starting your own band. Is folk the new punk? That's anyone's guess. All I tell you is that Chuck Ragan has shown that the two can go hand in hand.

Rotterdam single
Chuck Ragan

(Vinyl Collective, 2009)
1. “Roterdam”
2.Coal Tattoo
Availability: Available from Vinyl Collective ( )

Lookie here! Our first picture disc! Late last year, Vinyl Collective put out this beauty containing one of the highlight tracks of the Gold Country album. Seeing as side A is identical to the album version, let’s talk instead about the B-side, “Coal Tattoo.” While it’s certainly a lot simpler than the complex arrangements of the Gold Country session, it’s the simplicity that makes it stand out. “Coal Tattoo” is a violin-driven 100 per cent folk song that’s reminiscent of the early Dylan-era folk most of us associate with the term. Like I said, Chuck’s studio albums are certainly a step above when it comes to complexity, but this number, though not my favorite, is sure to satisfy fans nonetheless.

ole single
Chuck Ragan

“Ole Diesel”
(Rat Patrol Records, 2007)
1. “Ole Diesel
2. “The World Turned Upside Down”
Availability: From Rat Patrol Records ( )

There’s something absolutely pretentious about saying “Ah, I liked the demo version better” when someone tells you about their favorite song on an album, but there’s some genuine truth in saying that about Chuck Ragan and “Ole Diesel” is no exception. This semi-rare slab contains my favorite version of my favorite Gold Country song. Something truly basic and grounded about this number makes its appeal so much more true than the album version; maybe it’s the fact that this version was my first taste of the song (the 7” came out two years before the LP). And while the LP version of “Ole Diesel” contains more polished beauty, this one has the underdog element to its advantage; no piano, no strings, just a guitar and harmonica, and quite honestly, superior vocals. Backed up with a Billy Bragg song on side B for good measure!

Symmetry single
Chuck Ragan

(No Idea Records, 2006)
1. “Symmetry
2. “It’s What You Will”
Availability: Out Of Print

Before the release of Chuck’s first album, Feast or Famine, No Idea released a series of seven 7-inches containing demos of his songs. Exclusive to subscribers, and now known as the Blueprint Sessions, these records have long been out of print. Ahem, was someone lauding demos? Did I hear the name Billy Bragg? Cast your eyes on the "Symmetry" 7-inch for it has all!

Feast or Famine came along at a particular point in my life where I think I was most receptive to these songs. The Blueprint version of “Symmetry” is definitely the highlight of the sessions in my book, since it has possibly my favorite of his songs and Chuck sounding his most Billy Bragg-ish. The LP version turned out to be a potent potable, but it still doesn’t beat this one in sound or arrangement! Backed up with the demo version of “It’s What You Will,” fans should feel lucky to own such a special slice of the man’s music.

Ollie Mikse is a journalist of sorts who purchases records of sorts that he can’t afford whenever he doesn’t feel creative enough to contribute to his band The Ottomans ( ). He enrolled in graduate school because he was told there was going to be pie. There was no pie. Scoundrels!



Chuck Ragan – "Ole Diesel"

Chuck Ragan – "Symmetry"

Chuck Ragan – "Coal Tattoo"

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