Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground

written by: September 16, 2011
Release Date: September 13, 2010


To say that Chuck Ragan is prolific would be an understatement. Since the formation of Hot Water Music in the early 1990s, Ragan has spent much of his time traversing the globe and playing in a whole lot of music.

His first release as a solo artist came by way of a series of 7-inch singles released throughout 2006 and 2007. This series, titled The Blueprint Sessions, was a callback to the long-dormant Rumbleseat, a folk band that was formed during Hot Water Music’s first breakup in 1998 with fellow HWM guitarist/vocalist Chris Wollard and bassist Samantha Jones.

Ragan quickly took to releasing live albums, all the while prepping for his first studio full-length, 2007’s Feast Or Famine. This debut boasted songs from The Blueprint Sessions, as well as a reworking of Rumbleseat’s classic “California Burritos,” alongside a bevy of new material. It was a strong debut that pushed Ragan to the forefront of the increasingly popular punk-gone-acoustic movement.

Shortly thereafter, Ragan took to putting out releases almost nonstop for the next five years. Whether it was live albums—six have been released since 2006—split 7-inches, or collaborative albums, Ragan never stopped writing and recording. By the time he released his second solo record, 2009’s Gold Country, Ragan had become steeped in the traditions of bluegrass. Unfortunately, Gold Country failed to live up to Ragan’s earlier solo work. It can be posited that this was because Ragan was constantly on tour, and he also was using up great material for split 7-inches that only reached smaller demographics.

Now, Ragan returns with his third solo offering, Covering Ground. To say it is a return to the stripped-down approach seen on The Blueprint Sessions is partially true—opener “Nothing Left To Prove” puts the focus on Ragan’s impassioned vocals and cunning songwriting—but tracks such as “Nomad By Fate” still emphasize Ragan’s penchant for bluegrass.

Covering Ground sees Ragan turn in some of his best solo work to date, due in part to realizing not every song needs an intrusive fiddle line courtesy of Jon Gaunt. Instead, the backing band, consisting of Gaunt and upright bassist Joe Ginsberg, knows both when to lay back and also when to make its presence felt.

The songs that make up Covering Ground prove to be vastly better than that of Gold Country. One song from The Blueprint Sessions (“Valentine”) finds its way onto the record, but with an altered structure and powerful backing vocals from Audra Mae. Other guests make strong contributions, most notably The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon on “Meet You In The Middle.”

Lyrically, Ragan is retreading well-worn paths, but it never seems overwrought. Sure, he’s written many a love song to his wife, but it’s this genuine emotion that allows Ragan to saunter where many others would stumble. Covering Ground showcases Ragan at his best, with a world-weary voice belting out words as though they were his last and bashing away at an acoustic guitar. Not all folk music needs to wallow in sadness.

Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground Tracklist:

  1. “Nothing Left to Prove”
  2. “Nomad by Fate”
  3. “You Get What You Give”
  4. “Wish on the Moon”
  5. “Come Around”
  6. “Seems We’re OK”
  7. “Valentine”
  8. “Right as Rain”
  9. “Meet You in the Middle”
  10. “Lost and Found”