Album Review

Chuck Hawthorne - Silver Line

Chuck Hawthorne - Silver Line

It is a fool who glorifies combat. Still, the military recruits young, they recruit poor. It is a wonderful vehicle for those without many options; a chance for the poor but ambitious to attend college, and a quick ticket to citizenship for the foreign born seeking opportunity. As physically, mentally, and spiritually damaging as war might be, it does add a rare element to an individual’s perspective.

Equally, war creates a select fraternity amongst the men and women of a certain class, delineating a line between those who did and those who did not. It isn’t the type of club typified by secret handshakes or networking opportunities. Rather it’s a mutual understanding. At its basic level it’s often unspoken but imperceptibly binding across race, creed, or age. It doesn’t make two men drinking buddies, but it does bridge a gulf between strangers.

Sitting next to him in a bar, if you were to turn and ask Chuck Hawthorne what he did, he likely wouldn’t tell you he’s a retired officer with the Marines and veteran of Iraq. Instead he’d answer, “I’m a musician.” You wouldn’t think twice, either. He looks the part. Lean, a bit weathered, sporting a cowboy hat and peppered beard, the Texas native fits the guise of hungry singer to a T.

If you were to inquire and receive a copy of his first record, Silver Line the larger history would become clear. ‘Welding Sun of a Gun’ is a deftly written, poetic metaphor about exchanging all the disparaging aspects of one’s history for a more productive future. The song plays out as a question for the protagonist, who seems eager but doubtful about the prospects of creation from the seeds of so much destruction. “It’s hotter than hell and brighter than the sun, pulling the trigger you’re a heart welding sun of a gun.”  So the song goes, sung wistfully but with intent over a sparse picking pattern.

Along with the opening titular track, ‘Welding Son of a Gun’ presents finely written but typical Americana fare. It is with the third track Hawthorne emerges from the glut of the singer/songwriter herd. ‘Bound to Be Bound’ picks up the tempo and replaces soft plucking for a more sinister rhythmic device. The lyrics become unabashedly dark, combining the only two things really worth singing about, sex and death.

In places Silver Line falls prey to the amateur’s gambit of answerless questions and the first person point of view. However, rhetoric is useful when done well and Hawthorne seems to be aware of this. There are some few instances of misplaced footing, but it’s best to recall that despite his age, and the scope of his songwriting ability, Silver Line is a first album. For that fact alone, this is an exciting release. Add to that musical contributions from Gurf Morlix, backing vocals from Eliza Gilkyson and it seems Hawthorne is making all the right friends within the industry.  

Silver Line plays out like a western noir. With songs about train lines, coal mines, love, death and misfortune there’s some depth there to please every offshoot of the Americana genre. Combining folk narratives against country picking Hawthorne could really go in any direction, but prefers his own hybrid blend. Before the album closes out though, Hawthorne addresses his history one last time on ‘Post 2 Gate.’

There’s so many cowardly ways to kill a man in war: drones, snipers, but none moreso than the IED. Whether strapped across a zealot’s chest or buried beneath the dirt there is no way to protect or defend yourself against such a weapon. In ‘Post 2 Gate,’ Hawthorne relates the story of a suicide by just such a device. It is a painful, powerful song, well executed and emphatic. In it Hawthorne steers well clear of cliché by neither condemning the enemy nor glorifying the battle.

We desperately need songwriters like Chuck Hawthorne. When you look at American society it’s important to note that very soon an entire generation of young people will have grown up knowing only the America of war and poverty. Music is fine. It’s a fun and silly way to pleasingly pass the hours, but much like sports it is also a distraction that seems to rob some of us away from the larger context of our lives and times. This generation without any firsthand knowledge of the peace and prosperity of the nineties is precedent to one that served through some of the darker years of our nation’s history.

The soldiers have mostly come home now from Iraq and Afghanistan to finish out their lives in quiet corners far removed from the battlefield. But they are left to wonder what the wars meant, and most won’t have the outlet in music Chuck Hawthorne does. Most should be fine, but some will turn to drugs and alcohol. Others will flounder trying to make it on their own and many will discover the war has followed them back home. Suicide is not uncommon among returning vets. Every bible beating, chart topping, faux populist looking to turn a buck by beating the war drum should look to Silver Line for guidance on just how to address the issues of conflict with just a little bit of wit, tact, and grace.  

     

Great article.  Country Blessings!

KellysCountry,

Hey, thanks for the kind words and reading. 

 

-Ray

Nicely written Raymond.

Mike Seely also posted a fine review of this album on this site back on 4/27/15 which I missed until he mentioned it on another discussion. Based on his review I decided to get it and went to my record store but they couldn't help me. The clerk said it was available through CD Baby which was a crapshoot to get and said I should probably go through his website. When I checked out this site this morning there was an add for Hawthorne's album so I checked that out but it was for dowloading the album which I refuse to do. I'm a dinosaur and must have the hard copy with the artwork and hopeully some information about musicians etc. I was starting to get frustrated.

Then I read your review Raymond and it inspired me to try harder so I checked out Hawthorne's website and was able to order the CD which I did so its supposedly coming. I hope it was worth the effort, my credit card # isn't stollen. I actually recieve the product and I finally get what use to take just an enjoyable visit to my record store. I really hate this fucking modern world and its so-called conveniences.

 

Dennis:

Yeah, I remember posting it and then seeing Mike's post the next day. I sent him a message telling him sorry for stepping on his toes. Mike told me his was more of an interview, and as my article was more of a review he thought they complimented each other. I agree, but I still think it's a good idea to space such things out. For one it gives the artist coverage over a longer period of time, and two, it throws a wider net for those who doen't read ND on a regular basis. Three, just because no itemized list should have less than three reasons. 

I admire your commitment to securing a copy. I'm much too young to admit I've never downloaded a song commercially. I get many of the reviews I cover over the internet, but those are contained within emails and I don't have to create an account anywhere or anything like that. Typically, I buy music at shows or record stores. However, that being said, I had the great misfortune the other day to wander into one of the last three Hasting's in America. And (excepting independent shops) if it is comparable to most record shops I'm glad they don't exist anymore. Out of ten thousand titles they didn't have a single one I was looking for. No Turnpike Troubadours, no early Belle and Sebastian, no Andrew Bird... I was so frustrated I ended up buying three or four of those discount comps/best of deals, that always seem to boil down musicians I love into a collection of obvious favorite hits that do little to compliment the artist the collection is dedicated to. 

At any rate Dennis, I appreciate the kind words and thank you for reading. I thought it was a great album and I'm sure you'll be delighted. I'll do you one better, if you don't like it for whatever reason, you get on this site and find my contact info and I'll send you a couple of the physical records I've been excited about lately. 

 

Thanks Raymond for the generous offer but I doubt I'll take you up on it. After posting my little harrangue I felt like such and old foggy I felt like yelling at kids to get off my lawn. But I really do hate how music is distributed these days and I keep hearing that CDs will soon be a thing of the past which really pisses me off. I'm lucky here in Seattle in that we have several really excellent record stores where you could have found any of those titles you mentioned--either new or possibly used. I can only hope they can stay in business. Going to a record store and just seeing what I might find is one of my real joys in life. 

I like a physical copy too Dennis., so I kind of got a kick out of your harrangue (I don't believe I have ever typed that word before)..I buy a lot online because I am not close to any retailer, Amazon is a major musical source, I buy lots of used stuff to see if I like the artist, and if I do, I then buy other stuff from the artist new...but I get your frustration...and I did used to love going in record stores...when I was a little kid my dad used to take me to Joe's Record Shop, and get me a 45 every couple of weeks, and Joe carried everything in the Phonolog, walls lined with records...Joe hired teenagers to run the record department, so they didn't recommend Pat Boone...they'd play Little Richard...I was 5-6 years old...got ruined right out of the gate by rock and roll...like Todd Snider once said, they had to change the message in church because they knew "I wasn't buying that bullshit about the devil's music anymore".

So go run those dang skateboarders off your sidewalk, and tell those punks to stop teasing the dog...you old fogey...er foggy...it was a good rant...

Thanks Jim for making me feel like I'm not the Lone Geezer out here. I pity that you have no good record stores in your area but envy your childhood jump on getting exposed to good music. I had the opposite experience. My parents weren't into music so they had dubius compilations of Broadway tunes etc. that were given away with the cheap stereo I'm surprised they bothered to buy. There was also a Hootenany compilation and the only artist I recall being on it was Dylan's version of "House of the Rising Sun" from his first record. I wish I could say I spotted genius immedietly but instead I wondered why in the hell anyone would record that sorry singer. (Of course I finally saw the light.) Pat Boone was more my parents' style.

Too bad Jim that you don't live in Seattle. I think we could be the kind of friends I no longer have since I didn't grow up here and I know no one that's into music period like I am or the kind of music I like specifically (which is quite eclectic really). I miss the old days when my freak friends and I would sit around listening to music and that was all we needed to entertain ourselves.

We do have some record stores in Indianapolis which is 40 minutes from me...I stop at the closest one occasionally...I have a friend who deals in used vinyl too...he's got thousands of LP's, and he does crazy business...but that shop is 25 minutes away, and I buy mostly CD's, so I don't get over there as much as I should.  But Joe's Record Shop was the deal back in the day...

I remember those compilations you speak of, but they didn't get played much at my house...my dad was a big jazz and gospel fan and my mom was a dance teacher, so there was music on everywhere, all the time...when I was 3 or 4 I can remember him playing records by Joe Venuti and Les Paul all the time...Pete Fountain, Benny Goodman, Dukes of Dixieland...he had lived in New York City when he was young, and he knew Jack Teegarden pretty well...he'd hang out in clubs and ballrooms where Paul Whiteman's Orchestra played, and then after that, he'd follow some of the players like Venuti to the dive bars where they'd jam till 3 am...so he was just as music crazy as you and I are, and he personally knew some of the greatest players of his time...we went to New Orleans once when I was maybe 8 or 9 and he got me in a couple of joints I wasn't old enough to be in because he knew the players from his New York days...he started buying me 45's when I was little...he bought me what I liked, and didn't worry about the message at all...so I got Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Elvis, that is what the kids who worked at the record store liked...when I was a teenager and started getting my own music, he'd listen...he didn't like Dylan or Neil Young at all, but he thought Santana was great, and he loved CSN and Y for their harmonies...he thought Suite: Judy Blue Eyes was great, but I remember him saying it was 3 or 4 different songs tied together...later on, when I read Graham Nash's biography, he said that in fact Stills had pieces of different songs that he couldn't finish that ended up being "merged" into what became that song...so having a guy like that as your dad, you couldn't help but love music...he didn't even object too much when I got the Woodstock soundtrack and the FISH cheer came on...we lived in an apartment at the time, so he told me to keep the sound low if I was going to play it.  When Steely Dan came out, he thought they were the nuts...he loved the way they merged jazz and pop and the sound and fidelity of the records...Gary Katz was such a great producer...

I do love Seattle, but it has been many years since I've been there...music is still the only entertainment I need, but alas, it seems many folks these days see it as wallpaper...their loss...and you and I are that kind of friends Dennis, despite the distance...The Lone Geezer and his sidekick, Nearly Deaf (I have listened to and played too much live loud music...I also worked for GM for 25 years, and I didn't always wear hearing protection...so I don't hear all that well).  The ears are the biggest threat to my continued enjoyment...so far, the science of hearing aids has facilitated me fairly well...may it always be so...Stugill Simpson with Old Crow Medicine Show on Sunday...should be fun...

One of the best vinyls I ever bought was by the Dukes of Dixieland. You're the only person I've ever known to have heard of them, Jim!

That was some great music Raymond...The Assunto Brothers and Pete Fountain (and lots of other great players at various times)...I've never really heard any other music quite like it...I saw them once when I was a kid with my dad and mom at Disneyland, it was my dad's favorite kind of music.  It is so free sounding...like 4 or 5 players playing whatever they want, and yet somehow, it all fits together...simultaneous soloing...crazy stuff...I can remember playing the Band's live record "Rock of Ages" for my dad years later, and he got such a kick out of the fact that they made this music that incorporated traditioanl American styles, and there was Dixieland feel in Allen Toussaint's horn arrangements on that record, especially "W.S. Walcott Medicine Show" and "Across the Great Divide"...

For what it's worth, Frank Assunto used to say that they were the "Dukes from Dixieland"...the term Dixieland was not a musical term to him, it was just where they were from...since they were the main purveyors of a style of jazz that accentuated free form within a melodic structure, with lots of soloing, he understood how the term came about, but it was just jazz to him.  In their prime, they had the best of the best jazz players in the band, and they did some sides with Louis Armstrong in the 60's that are legendary.  Can't say I found them on my own though...I think I may have heard them before I was born, as Dad always played lots of jazz...some of my earliest memories are listening to music my dad liked...

Jim, the story of your father is fascinating and explains why your such and avid and knowledgable music fan. I can't imagine having such a quixotic father--one who rubbed shoulders with Joe Venuti and got his underage son into New Orleans venues and regularly bought him whatever 45 he wanted without the usual parental lecturing. You could have used this posting as a response to Kim Ruehl's question: "How did you come to this music."

I loved my dad dearly but he couldn't have been more different. He was a Swedish-American farmer born and raised in Nebraska who moved to Cental California as a young man. The only music I witnessed hm enjoy was Lawrence Welk and novelty Swedish records like "I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas" or "John Johnson's Wedding." He remained a fairly poor dirt farmer his whole life, a church-goer and, much to my chagrin, a Republican. But despite this he wasn't stupid. I remember when I had gone from a church-going, honor student athlete in high school to a long-haired, drug addled hippie freak in college I once played him Dylan's "The Time They Are A Changin'" in hopes it would help explain the changes in his son. After listening to it he simply said, "So? The times are always changing." I thought he'd missed Dylan's point that they were changing in radical and new ways but there was no denying the truth of his statement.

I was very sorry to hear about your hearing loss. I can't imagine a worse fate for a music lover. My own hearing has been affected by years of so many loud concerts that sometimes left my ears ringing for days but I havent yet had to resort to a hearing aid although my wife sometimes claims I need to.

I envy your upcoming Sturgill Simpson and Old Crow Medicine Show gig but I'm seeing The Turnpike Troubadours tonight and on August 9th, David Bromberg so I've got plenty to look forward to.

Two great concerts,,,Bromberg is amazing, and I'd see the Turnpike Troubadours in a second too...don't sweat the hearing loss too much...every one has some issue if they get old enough, and I am glad to still be here///other than that, I am embarrasingly healthy...I still run 30-40 miles a week, walk my dogs every day...I'm far more active than most people 30 years younger...and the hearing aids really have helped my perception a lot...the first show I saw after I got them was Sturgill Simpson last December...it was so great to hear everything that well...I could hear every little nuance that Lars threw in on the guitar, and Sturgill's voice just cut through the air like a razor...I was kicking myself for not getting them sooner...people don't even notice anymore, people have ear buds and bluetooth...glad I don't have some real illness...lately I know so many people who have issues...a good friend of mine (and a great musician) just had triple bypass...the guy I mentioned who owns the vinyl store has multiple myeloma (he was diagnosed 7 + years ago...longest I've ever heard of anyone living with that)...self inflicted hearing loss is not much to complain about in the grand scheme.

Dad was quite different from the average father...my friends thought he was the coolest person on earth, which I must confess I found a bit annoying at the time, because he still had high expectations for me...they couldn't believe he liked any popular music...he was quite a character...my wife had Lindsey Buckingham on in a TV interview the other night and I walked into the room and she froze the picture...she said "who does Lindsey look like?"   I took one look and went "Holy crap, that's my dad!"  I swear, now that Lindsey is greying, they look exactly alike..he was the kind of guy who would have been in a rock band if he grew up in our era...he'd probably still be pissed at Stevie Nicks too...

For the record, Dad did like Lawrence Welk...Neil LaVang on guitar, JoAnn Castle, Joe Feeney...Welk had great musicians and paid them well...he just homogenized what they did into standard family fare...there wasn't much on tv back then... Ed Sullivan, Lawrence Welk, Baseball Game of the Week...we used to watch Midwestern Hayride with Porter Waggoner too, and my dad hated country music...but I got a kick out of Porter's Nudie suits, so we watched that...Tennesee Ernie Ford...

By the way, the Chuck Hawthorne record is excellent, just got it yesterday...Raymond has picked a winner here, and I apologize for hijacking the thread with the reminiscings from the Stone Age...

Jim,

 

None ya worry. I liked hearing the stories about your life and family. And isn't that what this site is for? To build up a community of outsiders under the thin guise of music. I just wish I could actually meet some of the frequent contributers, have a few beers and play some records on a sunny day outside somewhere pleasant. 

That would indeed be a good time Raymond!