Album Review: Dave Hause – 2012 Singles Project

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Regular readers of this space are no doubt aware of my affinity for what we’ll call the Revival Tour Movement; punk frontmen (and ladies) trading in their Les Pauls for acoustic instruments, busking their way across Europe and the States in true punk rock fashion. The stripped-down arrangements and limited production bells and whistles force the artist’s songwriting abilities to stand on their own. Traditional punk music that has any lasting value draws energy from bass and drums working in lockstep and intensity from buzzsaw guitars and the vocalist wearing his or her heart on their respective sleeve. The  folk-punk movement can be a very humbling endeavor, with the sparseness of instrumentation uncovering a lot of the inadequacies and pretension that can be covered up by distortion pedals. Chuck Ragan serves as the gold standard for this still-emerging genre; Dave Hause is making a solid case for the silver.

For the uninitiated, Hause undertook a fairly unique project in 2012. The Loved Ones‘ frontman (he’s not the former frontman, right? The Loved Ones are still technically a thing?) followed up his solo 2011 debut Resolutions full-length with a series of five EPs on a total of five different record labels. Each of the releases features reworkings of two songs from Resolutions and two covers from the respective label’s back catalog. Hause teamed up with SideOneDummy, Bridge Nine, JadeTree, Chunksaah and Sabot Productions for the project, giving him a wealth of options to choose his cover songs from. Cover songs can be a bit of a difficult animal. All too frequently, artists offer little more than rote recitation of the original, stripping them of whatever emotion they may have contained. Some artists, however, commit great time and energy in trying to make the original their own, at times turning it into a different song altogether (think Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower”). Given the results of the ten covers in this project, methinks that Hause has his feet planted firmly in the latter group.

The “Resolutions” 7-inch was first out of the chute. Released by SideOneDummy on Record Store Day back in April, the A-side features the title track from his debut full-length as well as a plugged-in-yet-otherwise-unaccompanied version of the Resolutions track “Melanin,” while the B-side features Hause take on the lovely Audra Mae track “The River” and the Flogging Molly staple “Whistles The Wind.” From the first moments of the opening track, the difference between the original, full-band tracks and these stripped down versions was immediately apparent. In many ways, this feels like how these songs should sound. Both Hause contributions to this 7-inch sound infinitely more personal than their souped-up counterparts. This particular version of “Melanin,” in this writer’s opinion, might be the best song committed to wax in the year 2012, its tone perfectly mirroring the song’s upbeat-without-being-sappy message. “The River” shares an arrangement with “Melanin,” though it tends to meander a little before Hause finally unchains his voice, allowing the song to finally hit its emotional stride. “Whistles The Wind” finds Hause backed by an acoustic guitar and what I think is a melodica taking the place of the strings and accordion featured in the original. Lyrically, “Whistles The Wind” is right in Hause’s wheelhouse and he more than makes the song his own. If I were giving out individual grades, “Resolutions” gets six stars (out of five).

Number “II” in the series was June’s “Pray For Tucson,” released via Bridge Nine Records. “Pray For Tucson” features, obviously, the title track in addition to the Hause track “Years From Now.” For B-sides on “Pray For Tucson” we’ve got “We Are The Blood” by obscure, long-defunct Boston hardcore band The Trouble and “First Will And Testament” by seminal Richmond, VA, hardcore band Strike Anywhere. From an arrangement perspective, “Pray For Tucson” is a bit of a misstep, the plugged in guitar not really meshing with the morbid-yet-optimistic lyrics. “Years From Now” is only a little more subdued as the original, but is equally as beautiful. “We Are The Blood” features a dark, minor-chord riff that evokes sludge metal, and is an interesting take on the original. It would be cool to hear the Loved Ones tackle this some day. Hint, hint. Hause plays “First Will And Testament” pretty close to the vest, turning it into fairly standard singer-songwriter fare.

Late June brought the Jade Tree edition of the singles project, featuring Hause tracks “Heavy Heart” and “Rankers & Rotters” backed up by The Promise Ring’s “Skips A Beat Over You” and “Psalm” from Blake Schwarzenbach’s Jets To Brazil. Unlike the acoustic original that evokes the spirit of the Beatles’ classic “Blackbird” (minus the whistling of course), this version of “Heavy Heart” is plugged in and yet somehow comes across more intimate. “Rankers & Rotters” is somehow the opposite, sounding more bombastic and drunken singalong provoking than the original despite not featuring the full band treatment. I’m admittedly not familiar much of the work of The Promise Ring or Jets To Brazil (if I still had a punk card, here’s where you can go ahead and revoke it), though on repeated listen, it’s easy to see where Hause has pulled inspiration from both through his career.

Next up, the Chunksaah installment features reworkings of “Time Will Tell” and “Meet Me At The Lines.” Hause chose to go with Bouncing Souls’ “Ghosts On The Boardwalk” and “Odessa” by the short-lived Jersey band Detournement, who featured, amongst others, Tom Petta from Bigwig, and whose EP was produced by the Souls’ Pete Steinkopf. “Time Will Tell” is arguably the most personal, relatable songs from the Hause solo catalog (at least to a fellow guy in his early 30s), and the acoustic rendition contained here inspires chills up the spine. “Meet Me At The Lanes” bordered on ‘just another song’ territory in its original form, but here, it’s another example that where Hause (and a lot of his Revival Tour comrades) is concerned, less instrumentation is certainly more. Hause’s mellow take on “Ghosts On The Boardwalk” is able to retain a lot of the optimistic vibe of the original, though he treats it as though it were one of his own tracks, changing the emphasis of the “You say you’re lonely” outro, somehow making it sound more encouraging. “Odessa” is even more mellow and seems to be lacking the raw emotion of a lot of the other tracks, never really getting off the ground.

Closing out the singles project is the Sabot Productions release “C’mon Kid,” featuring arguably my favorite two tracks from Hause’s “Resolutions” full-length; “C’mon Kid” and “Prague.”  The easy, perhaps too easy, options for Hause to choose as B-sides would have been something from the early Against Me! or Gaslight Anthem catalogs. Some (mostly me) may have been hoping for a Franz Nicolay track, or at least something from “Boys And Girls In America.” Hause chose Lucero’s “Joining The Army” and None More Black’s “Oh, There’s Legwork.” Definitely wise choices on both accounts. “C’mon Kid” here is turned into a haunting, piano-driven ballad that punches you directly in the heart. Listen to it loud and tell me you don’t choke up; go ahead, I dare you. “Prague,” meanwhile takes on a sparse, Nebraska-era Springsteen tone. Good, though this version is flawless. “Joining The Army” seems less melancholy, oddly enough, when run through the Hause filter, taking on more of a Delta blues feel, though he does tack on a Flintstone-ified intro to “Tonight Ain’t Gonna Be Good” for good measure. The uninformed might envision “Oh, There’s Legwork” as being a Hause original because the lyrics seem cut from his songbook. Despite the solo treatment, Hause is more than able to retain a lot of the vitriol of the original.

With any luck, I haven’t lost you over the course of roughly 1300 words (Hi, Dad!). Without talking directly to the man himself, it’s tough to discern exactly what Hause’s motives were for embarking on a project like this. It may have been a gimmick, it may have just been a fun way to work with some labels that he has respected and to cover a few artists that he’s found influential. The end result, however, may be devastating to fans (or members) of The Loved Ones, as the five releases outlined above do more to reveal Hause’s true gifts as a songwriter and an empathetic performer than either Resolutions or the canon of his “day job,” proving that he shines most when completely unaccompanied.

 


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