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Bristle Ridge brings old-time back to the present

Take a Listen

March 04, 2009
Last August, artists Chuck Ragan and Austin Lucas put out a split record titled "Bristle Ridge" that harkens back to old-time gospel, roots music and traditional folk records of old.

Ragan is one of the singers/guitarists of post-hardcore outfit Hot Water Music, but in recent years has branched out with a solo career that pairs his gruff vocals with an acoustic guitar and harmonica. With 2007's "Los Feliz" and "Feast or Famine," Ragan proved he could play the folk game with the best of them.

Lucas, originally from Bloomington, has been involved in music his entire life. He was raised on bluegrass and folk by his musician father, Robert Lucas, and reportedly learned how to sing before he could talk. For the past 16 years, Lucas, much like Ragan, has been involved in the punk and hardcore scene. He's played in various bands but didn't put out his first solo album, "The Common Cold," until 2006. Lucas' solo albums focus more on his early influences of bluegrass, country and gospel.

Lucas's gifted voice and songwriting talent are best showcased in this capacity.

"Bristle Ridge" is not a typical split record, where each artist records their side separately and occasionally the bands/artists might cover one or two of each other's songs. Instead, Ragan and Lucas recorded the entire 12-song album together with the help of Lucas' family on accompanying instruments. The record features three songs penned by Ragan, three by Lucas and one by Lucas' father, as well as renditions of old-time standards "Darling Corey" and "Distant Land to Roam."

The album opens with the fast-paced "Bloody Shells" featuring some clawhammer banjo front and center. Ragan growls out the dark lyrics before we're treated to the first of many harmonizing treats when Lucas and Ragan sing the chorus together. Lucas' country yowl compliments Ragan's voice almost perfectly on this song, as it does throughout the album.

My favorite song on the album is "Sun or Snow." The slow, plodding rhythm coupled with Lucas' soaring through his upper register offers a haunting and sad tone to a song about the loss of a friend.

As the album progresses, Ragan and Lucas trade the main singing duties but almost always join each other, as well as Lucas' family, in the choruses. The songs mix up between foot-stompin' fast and chair-rockin' slow as the instrumentation of banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin and harmonica try to convey a wide-range of emotions and subject matter. In the end, it all has the smooth aftertaste of old-timey porch music meant to be enjoyed and played with friends and family.

Pick this up, even if you're not a fan of this genre of music; it's worth a listen.

You can find it online at amazon.com, at Ragan's Web site, www.chuckraganmusic.com or at earX-tacy in Louisville.

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