Austin Lucas - Putting the Hammer Down (Cover Artwork)

Austin Lucas

Putting the Hammer Down (2008)

Magic Bullet

By now, it's an all too familiar story. A punk or hardcore artist goes the solo route, picks up an acoustic guitar and mines the rich tomes of folk and country music to garner a new sound. Don't believe me? Try Chuck Ragan, Tim Barry, William Elliot Whitmore, Devon Williams, and Rocky Votolato for starters. The thing is that despite often dramatic changes in tone, these artists typically still exhibit some trait that ties them to their punk roots. Whether it's a galloping strum, gruff vocal inflection or analogous lyrical themes, following the creative path back to these musicians' starting points isn't a job reserved for a master tracker.

It's this fact that makes Austin Lucas's North American (dude's a Czech citizen now after growing up in the U.S.) debut so interesting. Despite his musical pedigree, tracing Lucas's trajectory is no easy feat thanks to a sound that is much more traditional than his punk-gone-folk brethren.

While Austin Lucas may be best known as "that dude Chuck Ragan is going to record with," he's been making his mark on the grind/crust/metal scenes in bands like Rune, Twentythird Chapter and K10 Prospect for years now. Putting the Hammer Down marks a drastic departure from those previous projects as Lucas goes the way of country and bluegrass. By employing everything from a southern drawl and acoustic guitar to fiddle, banjo and ukulele Lucas has crafted an album that blends a backwoods storytelling ability with the careful reverence of folk-spirituals.

Songs like opener "Man Alive" and "There's Always Someone Tougher and Meaner" are rollicking ballads packed full of quick picking and a foot-stomping rhythm, while numbers like "How Are You My Lover" and "Breaker Breaker" are hushed and spacious odes to loneliness that feature minimal instrumentation and soothing backing vocals.

While Lucas has the instrumentation and aesthetics down, his songwriting seems to lack the direct punch that contemporaries like Chuck Ragan or Rocky Votolato have made a staple of their sound. While this could simply be attributed to the fact that Lucas is not willing to indulge in punk's simplicity or non-traditional elements, it keeps some of his songs from being nothing more than whispery elongated background pieces. Still, it will be interesting to see what sort of balance Lucas and Ragan strike now that both have presented their own musical identities.