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Hamell on Trial 

Tough Love

Wednesday, Aug 27 2003
Ed Hamell, better known as Hamell on Trial, was loosely affiliated with the '90s miniphenomenon known as anti-folk, the appellation bestowed on singer/songwriters armed with acoustic instrumentation who played and sang with a rough-hewn attitude closer to that of punk rock. The most successful exponent of anti-folk is Ani DiFranco, on whose indie label appears Tough Love, Hamell on Trial's latest, to which DiFranco contributes keyboards and some lovely duet vocals.

Hamell sings in a jovial, slightly and attractively flat voice that's rich with indignation at everything superficial and cruel the world has to offer. "Halfway" is a somewhat heavy-handed rant about, well, just about everything: Rolling Stone, Creed, shallow avarice, celebrities as demigods, abuse of political power, and even the singer's own preaching-to-the-converted self-righteousness. What saves the song from being another tired, obvious tirade is a killer strummed guitar hook, crackling drumming, and a pugnacious yet resigned chorus of "I mean: fuck it/ Why go halfway?" presented with gloriously unrefined basement-band brio. The peppy and habit-forming "Everything and Nothing" and "First Date" continue the abrasive-folk thesis, the former with its nifty variation on Van Morrison's archetypal "Gloria" chord progression, the latter through its catchy, forlorn Dylan-wannabe harmonica riff and an engaging, pleading "Baby, baby/ I'll be true to you" chorus (it could be a sequel to Joe Jackson's hit "Is She Really Going Out With Him," as it shares a similar theme of desperate misanthropy).

Alas, there's a bit of filler that makes this disc drag, like "Dear Pete," which tries too hard to be funny ("He's gonna do something dumb/ Like cut off my thumbs/ I'd hate to lose 'em/ I still use 'em/ When I eat"). And sometimes Hamell's vocals drip with so much sarcasm and smugness, they remind me of everything I don't miss about the Violent Femmes. Despite this, Hamell on Trial does DiFranco's lineage proud through songs that allow the bile to come up and go down easy.

About The Author

Mark Keresman


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