I’ll try not to dwell in this too much but thank God Chuck Ragan’s voice is the main drawing factor to see him live because the chances of actually seeing him live last night in The Workman’s were slim and none. This was my first time attending a gig in the venue and unless it’s for a particularly under the radar unsigned act I doubt I’ll be back. Quite simply, it’s a great venue that just isn’t up to the task when it is at capacity and the result of leaving the performance area for any given reason is that you will spend the night in the front bar listening on the PA.
I know, to hell with me for leaving the gig at any point, and to make matters worse I left for a cigarette, but bathroom trips, a break from the heat and more are valid reasons to vacate the area and once you’re out you’re out. Maybe the crowd was just particularly “elbowy”, who knows. Anyway that’s beside the point. I first came across Chuck Ragan when he supported The Gaslight Anthem back in 2010 at the Olympia. What captures your attention first and foremost is just how much balls he puts into his singing. Folk and Americana are two very strong genres these days and in order to stand out you need a hook – singing like a cross between Tom Waits and a Harley Davison engine is Ragan’s own particular one. And it works.
What doesn’t work unfortunately is his new touring setup, mainly the addition of three new musicians to the mix. Like I said, I’ve seen Ragan before and the first time around his accompaniment was Jon Gaunt on fiddle, second was The Revival Tour where he was joined by a plethora of musicians entailing double bass and second guitar along the way. All of that was fine but there’s something that just doesn’t gel with his style and a full low end of bass and drums. It’s the main issue I had with his last album too to be honest, like Dylan going electric except not as successfully.
Not to say that the four musicians on stage with Ragan last night weren’t top of their game and bringing it to the gig (especially when you’re drummer has only just joined the tour!) but particularly towards the end when we heard some of his classics like “The Boat” and “For Broken Ears” now with added percussion it seemed to take away from the songs. Just this man’s opinion but to me Ragan should stay as the travelling balladeer – heart, soul and song. Great gig at a pinch though and I look forward to his next… Just not in The Workman’s….