CD Review - Loretta Hagen "Mud and Stone"
UPDATE APRIL 2013: Loretta Hagen Wins Top Female Songwriter Award at The 4th Annual Jersey Acoustic Music Awards (JAM Awards) for album "Mud and Stone."
The Top Female Songwriter award was presented to Loretta by Saturday Afternoon Song Swap co-host Deena Shoshkes and Crossroads owner Lee Frankel.
Both promoters have hosted Loretta at their events. Presenter Deena Shoshkes revealed the Top Female Songwriter by reading, "For a songwriter who brings her songs to life with a gentle sincerity and tongue in cheek musings, in her depiction of the human experience. Her latest full length release is receiving praise among Roots and Americana circles nationally and we are proud to call her our own from New Jersey. The JAM Awards recognizes LORETTA HAGEN as Top Female Songwriter."
Quoted from presentation press release
Review: This is a coincidence for me to receive Loretta Hagen’s new CD “Mud and Stone.” Nearly twenty years ago -- 1993 -- I bought a CD by an independent female artist on a small New Jersey label and the thing that drew me to it was the title of one track: “If You Didn’t Walk In.”
It sounded like something a great country singer like Patsy Cline or Loretta Lynn would sing.
Anyway, I discovered the track was everything I’d hoped it would be. Loretta had this wonderfully traditional country-roots vocal style, filled with angst and sincerity. For some reason I felt she had potential and this style is not exactly what you would find in NJ. But, here she was – quite authentic and with enthusiasm.
Of course, after this I seldom found any Loretta Hagen cds. So, I just enjoyed the twelve I had. I didn’t expect an artist like this on a North Bergen, NJ label to make any significant strides. (I’d forgotten two bums named Springsteen and Sinatra succeeded from this state. But that’s just my temporary insanity).
And why would someone named Loretta Hagen succeed in this rat infested shark filled industry known as the music business? Crazy, right?
Fast forward to 2010: I find her name listed in a program for Bethlehem, PA’s great Musikfest. Could this be the same Loretta Hagen on that old 1993 CD? I usually attend this festival but that year I was curious. I wanted see how someone like Loretta Hagen -- who started with this Brenda Lee by way of Joni Mitchell look in ‘93 may have mutated into a Patti Smith or Chrissie Hynde circa 2010. But that’s not what happened.
It had been awhile and I was surprised to find this young lady was still plugging loyally and with a fine maturity to her vocals. She must have had what? Determination? Guts? Persistence?
For one thing she believed in her work. People playing and recording with her equally believed in her talent and direction. By this time, she actually did have a small thriving cult of fans supporting her and she still had something to say.
On this day she was alive, engaging and in fine voice. Loretta was polished and surprisingly the years had not eroded her ability to sing her songs with confidence. Her new songs were sharp, interesting and as always, clever.
During a break, I showed her the old CD and she was pleasantly surprised that anyone had it. But I needed Ms. Hagen to know that I wasn’t merely sitting there because I was passing her venue. I came to see her.
It’s 2012 now and Trespass Music represents Loretta -- another step up on the ladder for sure. She does have several CDs issued since 1993 – so she really never went away.
The new CD – “Mud and Stone” sounds at first a lot like standard Loretta Hagen. Good reliable songs, pleasantly sung and performed with good support and then…then...I hear this new song off her new LP and its only the third track in: “Money,” with these strumming guitars flowing like water and Loretta’s matured, wonderfully vibrant alto vocals, with a slight seductive lazy slur, grab my ear as her clever lyrics pour from the speakers. This is a winner. I’ve already played this one a dozen times. It’s like Lucinda Williams only with the edges smoothed over.
The lines are barbed wire sharp: “Money don’t like my hands, slips out of my hands like water…” – “Money don’t like my car, up on cinder blocks in the driveway….”
Her first CD was a curiosity. But this song confirms that Loretta Hagen -- was no fluke.
This effort is first class, top tier, a true contender as an artist to reckon with. This is delightful and I guess….is to be expected from someone who simply hadn’t given up. She simply believed in herself.
Is she as well known as Emmylou Harris? No. (Not yet). But look how long it took the great Lucinda Williams to finally crack that barrier. How many years was Bonnie Raitt pounding out Warner Brothers albums with name artists that few people heard. Long before she scored all those Grammys and never looked back.
So, maybe that’s why I never sold that first CD and moved on to new Allison Moorer and Carrie Underwood cds. On occasion I would still play Loretta Hagen’s first CD and listen – after all she’s from New Jersey. But I kept it because I knew there was a “Money” in Loretta Hagen’s future. And here it was.
Loretta’s backing players are also a very reliable group of accomplished, dedicated musicians with Gary Hagen at the helm. Gary takes a great soaring guitar solo on the live bonus track “No Until The Next Time”on this new album – proving that Loretta and her band can kick ass if they want to.
This new CD has many great songs to recommend it. I can now place Loretta’s music beside my Mary Chapin Carpenter, Allison Moorer, Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith and Shawn Colvin CDs. She’s certainly earned that spot and she will sit comfortably there.
The title track “Mud and Stone” is a powerful song reminiscent of a Beth Nielsen Chapman – Cindy Bullens tradition. On “Take Me,” it’s an optimistic tune and her voice is clear and crisp. Kudos to the fine engineering and producing. Loretta’s acoustic playing or it may be Gary’s – is always consistently superb. Their sound together is so well recorded and intimate.
“Turn In,”is a quiet beautiful acoustic track that slows the album down and offers Loretta at her vocal finest. The sincerity is gold and Loretta’s voice is like satin.
The beginning melody of “When My Years Are Stacked”with its fiddles cruising around Loretta’s stylish storytelling style is so acute here – easily makes this a favorite – and it’s a first class country track that Cat Country radio should not ignore. Loretta has a beautifully clever talent for this type of lyric and her vocals are strong and painfully sincere.
I’m still thrilled a New Jersey girl is this well-grounded in country-roots oriented music and has the ability to energize these songs the way she does. On somber ballads like “Hunker Down,”– it has an Emmylou Harris quality about it.
There are just too many richly rewarding sounds dealing with subjects that I just don’t hear from other artists. Loretta is definitely does not sound like anyone else. My comparisons are more of a frame of reference for readers not acquainted with Loretta.
“Where Do I Go?”– is a powerful woman’s message that possesses a Loretta Lynn strength in its melody and lyric. Ms. Hagen has that commanding deep voice here working the wheel that turns this finely tuned machine that is Loretta Hagen and her band. She conveys a strong message, asks the hard question and isn’t going to get kicked around.
“Get a Life,”is old world Loretta Hagen. This reminds me of that first LP Loretta and that style that first attracted me to her work. A simple yet biting lyric sung with conviction yet having that big blanket warmth. The musicians shine and Loretta’s vocal style is reminiscent of the great Reba McIntyre. Loretta shines on this.
A Christmas song on a country flavored album? Dangerous move? Maybe not. “Santa If You’re Listening,”is a Christmas song sung by someone who has lost a job, is trying to stretch a dollar, talking to Santa like he was a real saint and not just a man in a red suit with a white beard. This may just be the best song on the entire album. No one is singing or recording anything like this. This endears Loretta Hagen to any listener. A holiday video of this song on YouTube would be a wise decision. This is poignant and so necessary for so many especially this year.
My only twocriticisms: there should be a lyric booklet enclosed. Loretta’s songs have such creative twists and turns that a listener may be motivated to sing along. Loretta also needs some videos to support her great songs from her recent albums. She deserves to be seen by that unseen audience that would really appreciate her well-produced music.
A video for a studio recorded track would fit perfectly to her storytelling lyrics. Put those heads together and make it happen. Leave no potential opportunity uncovered.
There’s a wealth of great songs on this collection – 13 in all and many previous albums that have been released through the years yet to be explored. The bottom line: if the sugary pop country music that populates radio is becoming too much for you and your ears are getting cavities - then reconsider. Listen to someone who is actually a contributor to the life blood of real country-roots-folk music – even if she’s not from Austin, Oklahoma, Memphis or Nashville. She’s from New Jersey and so what? She will start out in your ears like pistachio ice cream and end up in your ears like a shot of Jim Beam whiskey.
I’m happy she decided to stick around all these years because she does matter.
Trespass Music / Bearfort Recording - Released March 2012
Loretta has some new shows coming up in New Jersey – check her website and her MySpace for accurate dates, places and full sample songs. http://www.myspace.com/lorettahagen -- Official website: http://lorettahagen.com/
John Apice - No Depression – November 25, 2012