I suffered through the heat if mid-day this afternoon on my ridiculously hot drill run (click HERE) – if fact, I’ve suffered in the heat for the past four days, but who’s counting – so this evening I’m taking it indoors where, hopefully, it’s a bit cooler.
As it turns out, in the summer Friday evenings are pretty sweet to hit the heavy weights seeing that nobody is ever there. I guess everyone has more important things to do on hot summer Friday nights. That good for me because I don’t have to compete with people for the weights and machines while they simply text about their sets and take selfies in the mirror. Maddening. Anyway, this evening’s He-man soundtrack to drone out the sound of ripping muscle fiber and the clinking of weights is the newest album by The Hard Working Americans, ‘Rest In Chaos‘.
If you recall, a two years ago, country-folk road-warrior Todd Snider abandoned his acoustic guitar and formed a new supergroup – Hard Working Americans – with veteran instrumentalists from the jam-band scene. Their 2014 debut (see link above) was a surprisingly pointed post-Occupy covers collection centered around working class consciousness. This follow-up ‘Rest in Chaos’, with its dozen original songs, is the band’s first declarative statement of its own.
What hasn’t changed since their first outing is that the album just plain kicks some serious ass. The first single and album opener, ‘Opening Statement‘, sets a tone of grit and whiskey-soaked honesty right off the hop. Over a fuzzy, ringing guitar riff, the bass and organ kick in to lay down a smoky groove for Snider’s anti-press conference commentary. The song underlines a kind of cultural anxiety and malaise, “We’re going down that road / Feeling bad because that’s what people do / It’s like every night is a Friday night / And every day is a Friday night too.” This is tell it like it is songwriting, flipping a middle finger in self-destructive spite at a wider world that is slowly killing us. Dare to look for meaning and you’re stuck with a ‘Half Ass Moses‘.
The album’s songs are a collection of hard-lived hard luck tales. ‘It Runs Together’ tells a fast-paced story of love at first sight in the alcohol treatment clinic and escape into a royal bender that ends with news of Phil Hartman’s murder by “a girl we knew from the clinic” leading to a mix of bitter humor (“seemed like her dream to be on TV was coming true”) and self-reflection (“In my will there will be no dispute / That I left everything to chance”). The narrator of ‘Burn Out Shoes‘ expresses neither apologies nor regrets for the rock and roll downward spiral he is on, declaring “I say, ‘Believe in me or to Hell with you’ / Ain’t that exactly what Jesus would do.” In ‘Acid‘, the narrator shares a similar dark humor, ruminating over a career on the edges of rock and roll fame, undone by the drug of the title, but giving a shout-out to the Moody Blues. ‘Massacre‘ sums it all up in beautiful loser poetry, “Broken people can’t be stopped or saved / We’re like hurricanes or tidal waves / We leave a little mark on you like oh so what / So does lipstick on the sidewalk end of a cigarette butt.”
The album’s title comes from its most mournful song, ‘Ascending into Madness‘, which is destined to get played at a hell of a lot of funerals for a hell of a lot of the kind of badass pluggers, fighters, and strivers who populate this excellent album and who represent, at the end of the day, regular people with big hearts trying to make it through hard times. “I’ll quit drinking for the reason I started drinking / When it makes me feel better than I already do,” sings Snider in a great line as he bids a farewell, “Rest in chaos, my old friend.”
But enough of the political mumbo-jumbo. This album is a bit more polished and studio-crafted than it’s predecessor. But that’s not a bad thing, as this is absolutely a fucking amazing listen, chalked full of tough guy, He-man anthems on par with any Drive-By Trucker album. It was the perfect soundtrack for 60 minutes of intense, sweaty, muscle-ripping strength-building. It practically yanked it’s proverbial balls out and dangled them in front of you daring you to rise up to it’s level of supreme uber-masculinity. Easily on of the best albums for the gym, and of 2016.