Chuck Ragan - Feast or Famine (Cover Artwork)

Chuck Ragan

Chuck Ragan: Feast or FamineFeast or Famine (2007)
Side One Dummy Records

Reviewer Rating: 4
User Rating:

Contributed by: Booker_PeeBooker_Pee
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Like a lot of other people in the punk and indie worlds, Chuck Ragan decided to start making acoustic music after the dissolution of Hot Water Music. But there's no risk of his new material coming across as a lukewarm Johnny Cash impression (I'm looking at you, Greg Graffin [Ut-oh! Controver-shee-ul.
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Like a lot of other people in the punk and indie worlds, Chuck Ragan decided to start making acoustic music after the dissolution of Hot Water Music. But there's no risk of his new material coming across as a lukewarm Johnny Cash impression (I'm looking at you, Greg Graffin [Ut-oh! Controver-shee-ul shtatements! - ed.]). Chuck is doing what Chuck has always done: make incredibly honest and heartfelt music within the best of his abilities.

His post-HWM releases to this point have been criticized for his reliance on punk rock-style rhythm guitar, which he's obviously no stranger to. But barre chords don't always translate that well on acoustic guitar and some people derided the 7" single series from No Idea Records as nothing more than demo tracks that all sound the same.

The good news is, for the most part, that the problem has been rectified for his first studio album, Feast or Famine. The songs are heavily made-over, fleshed out with the help of extra instrumentation, guest players, and other vocalists.

Given the absence of all things ALL/Descendents in the past few years, it's good to see that Chuck is still working hard on carrying the "allular" torch. While he stops short of writing songs about food, he opens the record with an ode to the life of the fisherman. "The Boat" sees him planted in the middle of a torrential seastorm while looking for that day's catch. As with every song on the album, it focuses on Ragan's love for and appreciation of life itself. That's the main lyrical theme, as every song centers around family, passion, love, and Chuck's unwavering belief in a higher power. He's an unfailingly positive guy (with the exception of "For Broken Ears," a treatise against the government's handling of the Iraq war).

Plenty of songs here retain the bare-bones feel of the Blueprint Sessions, consisting of little more than acoustic guitar, Chuck's strong harmonica, and vocals. Those that receive extra instrumental flourishes could come across as too "country" for a lot of punk fans, but the fiddle and accordion that marks songs like "California Burritos" (a Rumbleseat classic that reaches its full potential here) and "Do You Pray" are more roots than country.

As for those guest players, some are used more effectively than others. Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba's distinctive vocals are somewhat buried in the mix on the two songs he appears on ("The Boat" and "Do What You Do"), but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It adds a certain ethereal, disembodied quality to the mix on the former, while the volume gets turned up a bit towards the end of the latter to nice effect. More successful are the contributions of Jolie Holland. Her voice is just as powerful as Ragan's and her harmonies add a fantastic counterpoint to his on the three songs she appears on.

It's not all perfect, though. A lot of songs have very similar tempos and strumming patterns, which can cause them to run together if you aren't paying close attention. The sequencing does what it can to interrupt that flow, throwing in slower cuts like "Geraldine" and "The Grove" every four or five songs. There are also some songs that might benefit from a smoother, more polished voice, as Ragan's guttural, raw vocals can come across a little too harsh for the music at times.

So while the spirit of the songs remains the same as his live and 7" releases, by dressing them up as best he (and his friends) can, Ragan has touched on a very solid, honest sound. It might be softer than Fuel for the Hate Game, but he remains undoubtedly one of the most inspiring musicians working today.


People who liked this also liked:
The Lawrence Arms - Oh! Calcutta!The Gaslight Anthem - Sink or SwimAgainst Me! - is Reinventing Axl RoseThe Gaslight Anthem - The '59 SoundAlkaline Trio - GoddamnitHot Water Music - CautionAgainst Me! - As The Eternal CowboyThe Loved Ones - Keep Your HeartThe Clash - London CallingChuck Ragan - Gold Country

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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
big-man13 (June 4, 2009)

for those who think chuck ragan left punk he really didn't. folk and bluegrass are really just punk, but played slower and more of a mellow tone.


nameless (March 8, 2008)

"did anyone else notice that "allular" isn't a real word?"

What!? No! My world is crumbling down...

Will_StrungOut (January 27, 2008)

'Honestly, if you think Graffin's solo outings are nothing more than pale Cash imitations, you know absolutely nothing of folk/country/etc.'

What are you saying? That someone doesn't know anything about folk music because they think that some punk musician who thinks he can play folk is bad? Yeah..ok mate.

drewdeficit (January 2, 2008)

this is absolutely wonderful. i'd probably have chuck's baby if i could.

throw_aways (December 21, 2007)

i don't really see how someone who likes both HWM and folk could NOT give this album 5 stars. it's such a fucking masterpiece

MikeStupid (September 19, 2007)

I don't get the hate for the Greg Graffin album. Pretty solid folk record as far as I'm concerned. This is too. Score is for both of them.

Dante3000 (September 18, 2007)

I like Chuck a lot and his solo work is all pretty good by me, but I absolutely understand the statement about songs sort of running together.
As for Cash (which shouldn't even be a subject) listen to Live from Folsom Prison. It's not just an album that people like because everyone says it's cool. It's legitimately an amazing album, at a crucial time in Cash's life. I keep meaning to write a review for it but never manage the time.

wyzo (September 16, 2007)

""His cover of "Hurt" is atrocious, horrendous, just fucking disgusting."

No, AFI's cover of head like a hole is atrocious.

Cash's "Hurt" was his own. Reznor cried watching the video. How can you not. That song was written so Johnny Cash could sing it, Trent just didn't know it ahead of time.


Angiepants (September 16, 2007)

Chuck Ragan is a beast. This album is amazing, "The Boat" got to the very top of my most played in iTunes in literally three days. Incredible.

skanknsmile (September 16, 2007)

did anyone else notice that "allular" isn't a real word?

TheMike (September 16, 2007)

I really liked "Cold as the Clay". A lot.

FranklinStein (September 15, 2007)

Four Damn Good Songs With The Word "Boat" In The Title:
1) "The Boat Dreams From the Hill"--JAWBREAKER
2) "Boatless Booze Cruise Part 1"--The Lawrence Arms
3) "My Boatless Booze Cruise"--Sundowner
4) "The Boat"--Charlie Ragan

I AM aware that the Larry Limbs/Sundowner songs are essentially the same song...I'm sure some smartass would call me on that if I didn't have this disclaimer.

Seeing that Chris Mcaughan used lyrics from a HWM song for his retake of "Turnstiles," I think it would be appropriate that he and Charles Ragan tour together.

I'm completely aware that Ragan prefers to go by "Chuck".

After I finish writing this, I'm going to beat off.

I realize that "typing" would be more fitting of a word in regards to my previous statement, aka "PS IV"...it's just more natural to say "writing".

"aka" means "also known as," just in case you were scratching your head bloody in confusion.

As you can see, I have no life.

misterspike (September 15, 2007)

Score is for Chuck is being an Awesome Guy. I like this record, thought for me, Los Feliz is more enjoyable. Live performances always get me.

internetsanta (September 15, 2007)

america IV was scary intense.

this album, well, its ok I GUESS.

however, i bet he is voting


Scruffy (September 15, 2007)

1. Greg Graffin's recent album WAS a huge letdown compared to American Lesion.

2. American IV is an amazing album. I will defend the "Hurt" cover, but I don't want to right now. His reworking of "Personal Jesus" was awesome, "When The Man Comes Around" is Cash's best song ever and hearing the whole Carter-Cash clan sing "We'll Meet Again" at the end, making it an eerie premontion of Johnny and June's immenent deaths, is astoundignly powerful. Don't hate it for the hype, telegraph. You're deaf if you don't think American IV is great.

AlmostPunkENough (September 14, 2007)

we all need to face the fact that the last Greg Graffin album was TERRIBLE. and there's no bigger BR fan than me.

this is ok.

branden (September 14, 2007)

""His cover of "Hurt" is atrocious, horrendous, just fucking disgusting."

How so.."


theres your answer.

Frogtown706 (September 14, 2007)

"His cover of "Hurt" is atrocious, horrendous, just fucking disgusting."

How so..

booker_pee (September 14, 2007)

Just joking about the Johnny Cash thing, folks.

The Weakerthans as backing band were the only redeeming thing about that album, though.

Ravnos (September 14, 2007)

I'm gonna have to agree with 86themike. I love this album, but Los Feliz was brilliant. The songs just sounded so much more, I dunno, alive on the live album. They're both worth grabbing, though.

JerryCola (September 14, 2007)

Boo @ the Greg Graffin comment

Chuck Ragan's solo stuff is ok but I was a bit bored when I saw him live. He should get back to HWM pronto!

Greg Graffin's solo stuff was fun when I saw him live, plus he had the Weakerthans as a back-up band!

baseball (September 14, 2007)

great album, love the reworking of the familiar tracks on here

i don't really understand the Greg Graffin Johnny Cash comparison

i actually think "Between the Lines" (i think that's what it's called) on Feast or Famine has kind of a Johnny Cash vibe

Mental_Decay (September 14, 2007)

I bought this album a few days ago, and I love it. It's not normally what I listen to, but the first time I heard it it just kind of caught hold of me, and I think it's a great, honest album.


GlassPipeMurder (September 14, 2007)

has some great songs and some that are kind of passive. then again i'm not huge into acoustic stuff anyway.

telegraphrocks (September 14, 2007)

Cash didn't really kill a man in Reno... it's just a song.

All his most recent shit (i.e.- everything on American) was total fucking garbage. His cover of "Hurt" is atrocious, horrendous, just fucking disgusting.

I love the OLD Johnny Cash... that's where the fucking gold is.

86themike (September 14, 2007)

i enjoyed "Los Feliz" but the studio tracks that i have heard don't seem to catch my ear.

as for similiar style music from genre related artists i recommned Vic Ruggiero. Either "Alive at the Ladybug House" or "Hamburguru"...some good folk/blues music

ConsolationPrizefighter (September 14, 2007)

How about Cash's cover of "Redemption Song" with Joe Strummer? Anyone?

NotPatriotic (September 14, 2007)

Yes, I know he didn't actually kill a man in Reno.

NotPatriotic (September 14, 2007)

Greg Graffin is cooler than Johnny Cash, that is for sure. Johnny Cash is, for some reason, this cultural icon for white guys, I don't get it, is it because he went to jail or something? Or is it because he shot a man in Reno just to watch him die?

Johnny Cash's last few albums were good though, mainly because of production, song choices, and a haunting voice.

Frogtown706 (September 14, 2007)

Johnny Cash's version of "Hurt" gives me chills everytime I listen to it..Score is for Johnny Cash R.I.P.

telegraphrocks (September 14, 2007)

Brandon, fuck you.

This album is awesome. I saw Chuck last month with Matt Skiba, and I officially hate Skiba/Trio fans now... at least 99% of them anyways.

The guy with a heart sings his heart out... people just stand there. Skiba walks onstage to lend a hand playing second guitar, and people fucking bum-rushed the goddamn stage.

Scruffy (September 14, 2007)

Honestly, if you think Graffin's solo outings are nothing more than pale Cash imitations, you know absolutely nothing of folk/country/etc.

BrandonSideleau (September 14, 2007)

To be completely honest.....I prefer Greg Graffin over Johnny Cash. Sure, I'm going be blasted for this comment since Cash is a legend.....but I personally find myself far more enticed by Graffin's voice and lyrics (at least, on Graffin first record......the second hasn't really caught a hold of me yet.) I just don't find Cash all that exciting, but I can understand why many people do.

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