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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Thom Chacon

Thom Chacon

Review by Jason Hillenburg

Thom Chacon's self-titled debut is much more than another attempt to pour old wine into new bottles to little appreciable effect. After decades of singer/songwriters threading thin voices through stock images cribbed from Dylan or Springsteen, I concede some inherent skepticism anytime I am introduced to yet another young guy with an acoustic guitar, a scruffy look, and a twang. Chacon's debut collection shatters that sort of cynicism with its literary flair, stellar musical backing, and astonishing maturity. Even when Chacon's songs flirt with cliché or cover familiar subject matter, they are composed with such an attention to detail and nuance that any weaknesses fade in the wake of his narrative powers. While genuine touches of real poetry litter each of Chacon's songs, he is primarily a storyteller and the lyrics owe much of their impact to his skill at creating concrete images, developing characters, and applying his personal experiences and understanding of human nature to his work. Prioritizing an organic approach to the material, Chacon aimed for a first take approach on each song and embraced an analog sound. The results of his spontaneous approach work with the album's warm, smoky sonic qualities to close the distance between the artist and listener. This effect is strongest on the first two songs. If anything, the ability demonstrated in these songs demands that Chacon go even further, plunge deeper, and push his talents to their limit.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Innocent Man
The album opener, "Innocent Man", has a strong structure, traditional folk flavor, and Chacon conveys his desperate tale with an emotive, raw vocal.
American Dream
This strongly recalls John Prine in vocal delivery and possesses a rumbling, hushed intensity. The true highlight of the song, however, is the intelligent lyrical content.
Juarez, Mexico
Chacon peoples his landscapes with damaged figures and his marriage of music and character fuses perfectly in "Juarez, Mexico,”  an exquisitely fragile character piece. His use of backing vocals helps sweeten the lyrical despair.
A Life Beyond Here
One of two songs with mainstream characteristics, this stakes out popular territory for its subject matter and its strong chorus lingers in the memory.
Chasing the Pain
"Chasing the Pain" has another wrenching lyric about self-destruction that Chacon exploits with a devastating reading, perhaps his best vocal on the entire album.
Alcohol
This is a strong bookend to the previous track and tackles a familiar subject with honesty that never drags the lyrics into melodrama.
Ain't Gonna Take Us Alive
The second of the two mainstream flavored songs, "Ain't Gonna Take Us Alive,” has a slight country feel, an appealing tempo, and another strong lyric bursting with images of outlaws and rogues hanging on in a dangerous world.
Big River
Chacon invokes Johnny Cash with the title "Big River,” but rather than a rollicking country tune, Chacon's song has the atmosphere of a hushed, yearning prayer.
Amy
This is a darkly comic character study over a relaxed, subtle mid-tempo shuffle. The organ touches rising up in the background complement Chacon's vocals so well that they sound like brief, light backing vocals punctuating key points of the lyric.
No More Trouble
This number shows Chacon's ear for melody and offers up another direct, sturdy lyric certain to resonate with all but the most cynical listener.
Bus Drivin' Blues
Here is another wryly-humorous shuffle tipping its hat to Springsteen's "Atlantic City", but the song feels like a throwaway number in comparison to the rest of the album.

 

           

Grant Country Slide
The final song, "Grant County Side,” is a meditative conclusion for the album brimming with the same confidence, intimacy, and artistry distinguishing the album's strongest moments.
 
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