LIVE: Hamell On Trial @ the Low Beat, 9/6/14

Review by Fred Rudofsky

Armed with a trove of songs, paintings for sale, and bawdy jokes (including a couple told by his son, Detroit) unlike those of anyone else on the planet, Hamell On Trial put on a dynamic Saturday night show at the Low Beat.

An extended break-neck rhythm pattern established the tension of a shaken universe in “A Little Concerned, That’s All,” a key song from Tough Love. Next, Hamell joked that he would be featuring a 45-minute interpretive dance number, but chose instead to sing off-microphone the bizarre yet true trio of drug-related tales of “When You Are Young,” set to an indelibly bouncy Yiddish folk melody. “Seven Seas,” a staple of his live show for many years, offered newcomers to Hamell On Trial a chance to hear the story of the vintage acoustic guitar he bought one day from Buzzy on Lark Street. Some of Hamell’s most beloved songs -“Blood of the Wolf,” “Hail,” “Inquiring Minds” and “Bill Hicks” (the latter by request, thank you) were written on it and featured in the set.

Yet the present was very much on Hamell’s mind, with six outstanding songs drawn from his remarkable new album, The Happiest Man in the World (New West Records). The title cut, which Hamell dedicated to local songwriter Michael Eck, was as lyrically expansive as Dylan and irresistibly melodic as Lennon – Hamell’s tale of finding beauty, dignity and hope despite being in a materialistic society that is cleaving and crumbling was powerful. “Jennifer’s Stripping Again” held out hope that a woman who is down and out may somehow find a better way, while “Richard’s Got a Job” celebrated the rebirth one can find in being able to enjoy the simple joys of life once again. In “Ain’t That Love?,” Hamell offered a series of delicate, profound ruminations about a long marriage that has closed out without warning. “Whores” mixed humor, empathy and awe for the forgotten in our culture (“I love the lost/ Repeating every tragedy”), while the slide-driven “Together” offered darkly funny musings (think of Morticia and Gomez’s Gothic worldview as a point of comparison) on growing old in a marriage.

Closing out with the spoken word “Television” and rocking artistic manifesto, “The Meeting,” Hamell was a blur of movement and poetry. After referencing in the latter the spirit of Muddy Waters in a slide guitar break and updating the lyrics with a reference to the indomitable provocateurs Pussy Riot, Hamell wished the audience one simple gift, “Peace,” before warp-strumming his beloved guitar to a cathartic end.

A Little Concerned, That’s All
When You Are Young
Seven Seas
The Happiest Man in the World
Blood of the Wolf
Jennifer’s Stripping Again
Richard’s Got a Job
Ain’t That Love?
Inquiring Minds
Bill Hicks
The Meeting

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