Sunday, August 7 • 3:00pm • The Bowl
Hard Working Americans are THE American rock supergroup. The band consists of cult songwriter hero Todd Snider, bassist Dave Schools from Widespread Panic, Neal Casal of Chris Robinson Brotherhood on guitar/vox, Chad Staehly of Great American Taxi on keyboards, Duane Trucks, younger brother to Derek and current drummer for Widespread Panic, and Jesse Aycock on pedal steel.
Their self-titled debut album Hard Working Americans was recorded in 2013 at Bob Weir’s TRI Studios. It is composed entirely of cover songs of artists ranging from Randy Newman to Lucinda Williams to Gillian Welch to Hayes Carll. The album was produced by Schools and Snider and also features John Popper (Blue Traveler) on harmonica.
Their brand spanking new album Rest in Chaos is an album that belongs in every music lovers’ collection. What you have here is the book of Genesis as deftly reconceived by Todd Snider who has been inhabited by a spirit resembling Philip K. Dick. The rest of the HWA are under the direction of an older wiser Hendrix and a Zappa no less exacting than he was when he departed. It is rock’n’roll music, past, present and future, and that’s no dream, it’s just a fact. There are moments here when the walls of Babel might be falling, there are moments when they are reinvented and every time you try to pin it down, it shows you something else.
“Half Ass Moses,” the third song, ends by declaring “The song wasn’t all that complicated.” Like hell it isn’t. When, in the very next song, “Dope is Dope,” Todd Snider is a voice more inflammatory and gritty than ever. “His mother didn’t understand him / Whose mother ever does?” Am I supposed to laugh, cry, applaud or beg for mercy? All that’s really sure is, you’re not leaving ‘til the show’s over. Even if you want to, there’s nowhere else to go, and even if there were, the music is too good.
If these Hard Working Americans were scientists of something other than sound, they’d be the story of the entropy of the universe, and if you think I’m kidding that’s only because you haven’t taken the deep dive into its complexity, which if not quantum is at least a quandary. Albums aren’t this good anymore; they’re not this ambitious; their parts are not so finely conceived, the risks are not so reckless, the ways they resolve contradictions are not so elegant. Most of all they don’t kick you in the preconceptions anywhere near so often. How did they manage to create harmonies in “Something Else” that recall both the Hollies and the Mothers of Invention?
Todd’s songs sound like he swiped part of them from Billy Joe Shaver and Tim Buckley and welded them together with spare parts from Iggy and Paul McCartney. There’s a nightmare embedded here, and what cares the weight of it, the aspect of doom and the hint of doom is Dave Schools’ bass. Neal Casal, who might be the most under-rated guitarist in rock, is constantly making the chaos more beautiful than you’d think possible. The roots of the sound are in the jam bands, Americana groups and singer-songwriter sessions the band members have played in but when they get to “Throwing Goats” and “Something Else”, they’ve joined the ranks of the rockers who no longer look for interstellar overdrive, because they’ve already found it.
Rest in Chaos is one of the most well-sustained albums of this generation, and what it sustains is not only faith in rock’n’roll or even how hard the these guys really do work to make their magic, but how much it means to them, which is the only way it can mean very much to the rest of us.
You can scratch its surface and dive to the bottom of it, if there even is a bottom. It is humbling to confront it, and reassuring to know that there is all the rest of our lives for that.