Charlie Hager – American Saga (2016)

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It’s only taken Nashville songwriter Charlie Hager 25 years to have his first album full of original songs released! Having graduated at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, he decided to join the US Marine Corps and travel the world, and it wasn’t until 1991 that he returned to Nashville and began playing venues like the world famous Bluebird Cafe. Even then, he got married and music took a back seat until 2011 where with the help of musical friends he began playing shows and writing songs again. During the summer of 2015, he finally started work on that elusive debut platter, and “American Saga” is the delightful result.

The musical influence of Charlie’s father James Bernard Hager, a West Virginian bluegrass musician, is written large across his son’s musical landscape. Add into that some echoes of Willie Nelson and Billy Jo Shaver and you can get a good idea of where this ship is being steered. But lyrically Hager is his own man. He is, in his own words, “an observer of the human condition”, and those observations are a crucial element of what he has produced here on “American Saga”.

Opening track “Way Down Low” is typically a case in point. More than a little reminiscent of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”, with a real ragged rambunctious rhythm (try saying that quickly!) rattling along throughout, Hager calls on his experience as a youth counsellor where he witnessed the use of prescription drugs to control people. We work to get people off of the drugs only to give them drugs to make them behave the way we want. It’s a clever juxtaposition of happy melody against a hard-hitting lyric, designed to make you think.

“Here Comes The Flood”, an acerbic ode to global warming, reminds me a little of Midnight Oil at their abrasive and caustic best, circa the “Earth and Sun and Moon” period. Guttural guitar, trades off a tub-thumping beat. It’s angry, forthright, but with an air of resignation. We can see what is going on. The evidence is there for all to see. But no-one is prepared to make the change.

Title-track “American Saga” is a beautiful way to close the album. A gentle three minute acoustic lullaby…with Hager ripping into the worst facets of the American idiom. It’s almost prescient of the arrival of the Trump bandwagon onto the political scene. “We like waving the flag and holding onto the bible”, “Suing our neighbours” “We’ve been fighting these wars for too long”, “We keep making the same mistakes”. He doesn’t hold back, and it’s striking and stirring stuff.

Here is an artist who has lived a real life and witnessed its real problems and is telling it like it is. There’s nothing startlingly original here. If that’s what you’re looking for then best try elsewhere. What you do have is an honest collection of songs that rock and swing in the all right places, but wrap it all up in a lyrical homage to realism. Life has an edge, and “American Saga” is where art mirrors life.

Ken Brown.

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