By now the saga of Kevin Hambrick has become well known around the area: longtime local staple, interesting backstory, intense live performer, wildly prolific songwriter, documentary subject (Paging Rascal Hanks), can’t catch a break to concentrate solely on his insistent muse. Whether it’s alone or with the rocking Orange Opera, Hambrick’s talent is only matched by his dogged tenacity.
His latest opus (that’s 20 songs – all killer, no filler) is a self-recorded world with its own atmosphere. Hambrick has managed to create a self-contained, mood-sustaining album and, in the process, learned to use silence as an instrument unto itself.
Not that the opener, “Hit Where It Really Hurts,” would reflect what I just said. A cranky, elemental groove supports some late-era Beatles/Pink Floyd harmony vocals here with purple riffage dominating the background. But it’s soon followed by the breathtaking hush of “Rest Your Laurels,” wherein a warm acoustic descending hook gives way to some weary, introspective vocals. Hambrick has never been underrated as an instrumentalist, but the subtle shades and precision he wrenches out here are nothing short of stellar.
The power of between-the-notes silence permeates this disc, and it does justice to Hambrick’s combination of pop smarts, riff-rock instincts and self-examination. The halting and hesitating “S.O.S.” has a ragged-but-right feel, while “I’m Feeling Cold” lopes along with a resigned vocal until the keyboard-laden chorus carries it into a bittersweet outro. These songs aren’t slight in the least; rather, they serve as an honest emotional glue that binds the album together.
Rockers aren’t as prevalent on Football Weather, but they make their presence felt nonetheless. Hambrick almost appears to have time-traveled to the mid-70s and snatched up a stable of studio musicians for “Guitar/Film/Sugar,” although it’s all him in reality. (Rhetorical question: Why isn’t this guy signed and on the road already?) His commitment to communicating the essence of the songs almost always pays off, even as he often completely disregards “conventional” recording etiquette (much in the same way a couple of bands you may have heard of did in 1967). Maybe that’s what keeps the big boys from calling – which might just illustrate why the industry is in such a sad, ringtone-obsessed state. At any rate, Hambrick cuts loose in his own classic-rock-centric way on “Plump Buzzard,” which makes you wish ELO’s Jeff Lynn was capable of this kind of abandon.
If I gush, I apologize. There’s so much to be taken from this disc that one listen doesn’t do it justice. The centerpiece of Football Weather is the deliberately paced “Sweet Momentum,” which uses a martial beat and Tartan bagpipe vibe to convey the record’s gauzy underlying sports/war/music-biz metaphors. You can almost see a fog-draped stadium/battlefield/stage door at dawn upon hearing this quietly insistent and cinematic song. It’s nice to know that this unique and prolific artist has not yet begun to fight. Football Weather is his best battle cry yet. Football Weather is available at www.kevinhambrick.com.. Wooden Nickel, Convolution and at both his solo shows and Orange Opera shows.