3.5 out of 5 stars
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Chuck Ragan spent more than a decade as the frontman of Gainesville post-hardcore outfit Hot Water Music, unleashing his emotionally charged bark alongside fellow vocalist Chris Wollard against a jagged punk rock backdrop. But even during the band’s most intense hours — like 1997’s Fuel For The Hate Game — Ragan has always harbored a gritty soulfulness that sounded as if it could have translated to earthier and more traditional rock songs. And there’s no reason why it shouldn’t; punk is just rock ‘n’ roll played louder and faster when you get down to it.
Since Hot Water Music’s hiatus in 2004 (which they broke in 2012) Ragan has stripped away the stylistic flourishes of punk in favor of alt-country arrangements and Springsteen-sized earnestness, and largely without losing much of the energy or intensity. His fifth album, Till Midnight, still carries a lot of post-hardcore’s streamlined angles and driving rhythms, but touched up with a dense mist of blood, sweat and fiddle.
Through much of Till Midnight, Ragan is still kicking up dust and throwing down, and pretty much doing everything except buying into the stereotype of the mature, mellow troubadour. Right off the bat, Ragan and The Camaraderie — his own E Street Band — explode into a choral chant of “We can do some damage!” on leadoff track “Something May Catch Fire,” and it’s a declaration that rings true here. That song, the lap-steel-driven “Vagabond,” riff-heavy basher “Non-Typical” and dusty strummer “Revved” offer a relentless one-two-three-four punch that keeps the momentum going far longer than expected.
Even “Bedroll Lullaby” rocks nearly as hard as any of the faster tracks, and it’s only fitting. Ragan’s own vocals are so raw and ragged that it seems like a waste of a great voice to try to keep it hushed. If Till Midnight proves anything it’s that you can take the man out of the punk band, but you can’t take the punk out of the man.