PLAY: The Hangmen - "Homesick Blues" (from East of Western)
With singer/guitarist Bryan Small as the only holdover from the band’s original lineup, the Hangmen’s new ten-track disc (32 minutes) soldiers on in the spirit of later-period Dream Syndicate and Social Distortion. Not so coincidently, the Hangmen have toured with Social D and Mike Ness produced the band’s 2007 disc, In the City. In addition to Small, the current lineup of includes x-Supersuckers Ron Heathman (Guitar, Vocals), Angelique Congleton (Bass, Vocals) and Dino Guerrero (Drums). Guest star Jordan Shapiro (who has played with The Supersuckers) adds wispy trails of pedal-steel adornment to the garage rocker “Graverobbers”
Writing in a style similar to Mike Ness, Small’s songs are semi-confessional road tales about hard luck and hard living, lost loves, self-destruction and redemption. Small’s sneering vocals continue to be as distinctive and immediately recognizable as Johnny Thunders and the music ranges from slow-burning ballads to b*lls-out gutter punk. The music is as distinctive as Small’s vocals as both the hooks and anthemic choruses are memorable. All of this is complemented by Heathman’s stellar slide guitar work. On East of Western, Small sneers his way through boldly hard-rocking romantic pleas (“I’m Your Man”), Western-tinged barn-burners (“Railroad Man”) and insomniac tales of junkie self-destruction and ultimate redemption (“Drink Smoke”). With its big, fat and leering monster riff, “Big Red Rooster” is a fitting homage to the late Lux Interior of the Cramps, who Small lovingly describes as a “teenage bastard of the chosen one.” Adding to the mix of Hangman originals, the band blazes through a red-hot cover of the Modern Lovers' "She Cracked"
Producer Doug Boehm does an excellent job of capturing the grittiness of the band’s sound on East of Western and this was something that was missing from the band’s late 80’s debut disc. (Just so I’m not confusing anyone – East of Western is the band’s sixth disc but…I missed the middle four so I can’t comment on how they compare.)