Released this summer, on the heels of his band The Working Title’s lo-fi/low-key acoustic EP Heart (thrice, by our powers combined we are captain planet), songwriter Joel Hamilton’s new, self-produced solo disc initially comes off as a curious collection of lightweight demos —song sketches plucked on ukuleles and strummed on acoustic guitars. It doesn’t take more than two listens to realize the six-song album is actually a raw and beautiful piece of work. Highly personalized and brutally honest, Officina‘s songs are stripped-down from the usual big studio production quality of The Working Title’s recent work. Toy drums, homemade guitars, and sparse hand percussion back Hamilton’s deep and somber vocal work throughout. He sounds either sleepily annoyed, drowsily aggravated, or totally convinced of a tough lesson, adding to the intensity on songs like “Keep Hope Alive,” “Die,” and “My Bed is a Lake.” This is a fine effort on a super-low budget by one of the scene’s brightest songwriters — a stellar leap in a new direction. (www.myspace.com/joelhamiltonband) —T. Ballard Lesemann
Shooting the Bull
Roving songwriter Owen Beverly veers away from his indie-styled roots/pop of previous efforts on this rich, big-room, gutsy collection of alt-country anthems and ballads. Known for his local collaborations with members of The Working Title, Slow Runner, Cary Ann Hearst’s band, and Jump, Little Children — and for his songwriting exploits with Steve Fiore, I-Nine, and Leslie — Beverly sounds like he’s worked out some important answers of his own on the carefully-arranged Shooting the Bull.
The Mississippi native worked with producer David Rolfe on the twangy 11-song collection. The blend of loud-crack drum sounds, acoustic/electric guitars, piano, and pedal steel reminds us of John Mellencamp’s early “Cougar” material (with ace producer Scott Litt), and Steve Earle (post-Copperhead Road). Slow-rolling lead-off track “All You Know” and folky anthem “Dixie” feature some of Beverly’s most emotive singing ever. (www.myspace.com/owenbeverly). —T. Ballard Lesemann.