E2TG Video Premiere: "These Days" by Charlie Hager
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Ear to the Ground has been featuring songs from American Saga, the new album by Charlie Hager for a few weeks. I previously described his music as pure honest songwriting. It is a sad commentary on our times that I almost felt the need to explain that I meant that as a compliment. In some ways, that is what this song and the brand new video, which we are premiering today, is all about.
"These Days" is one of my favorite tracks on the album, and the video manages to really convey the message of the song in an entertaining way. It was fun for me to spot places and people that I know among the settings and extras. Honesty can be a tricky thing in these modern times. Politicians use "speaking the truth" as a code word for being mean. Plus, it is easy to take a honest look at the world and become fatalistic or negative. The honesty that Charlie Hager employs involves combining a realistic view of the world today with optimism. Even that can be tricky to pull off. Optimism can easily fall into schmaltzy sentimentality. "These Days" effectively avoids that trap instead turning that measure of hope into a call to action. Elvis and MLK are the symbols as the song imagines their fate if they had emerged in the current environment. In the end, the song and video are not about these iconic figures who changed the world in their own way. The song is about all of us and the part we can play (in our own ways) to change the world that is badly in need of change.
This is a top-notch song and a wonderfully produced video, and Charlie Hager's heartfelt and rich voice matches the words and message perfectly. By the end of the video as the cast marches down an East Nashville (I assume) street, I felt some goosebumps...
Produced by: Sun House Films
Directed & Shot by: Jay Wasley
Singer-songwriter Charlie Hager is a new name to me, but immediately I placed American Sage into the slot I was drawn to his simple, straight as an arrow, sharp as a knife style of music (and lived-in vocals). It certainly helped that his opening cut was the Cajun warmed tune “Way Down Low”, backed up by strong story-ballad “These Days”. This as he speaks of the loss of originality, and how a certain boy (Elvis Presley) from Tupelo, Mississippi wouldn’t have made it today. For today we don’t give someone the chance to prove them selves like they used to)
Son of West Virginia bluegrass musician James Bernard Hager, Hager Jnr has honed his craft for 25 years, and though still to make it big his heart and soul is steeped in roots Americana of the purest kind, the type of guy from whom the lyrics move you. His observations of the human condition and the working kind are keen, strong and unyielding as he shoots across the bow without a care for his actions against a political correct world. In Benjamin Jason Douglas he has the perfect foil (rustic vocals, electric guitar) on “Isn’t It Strange” and with an vintage old-time gospel warmed feel “Still With Me” (w/ Ryan Dishen on lead guitar, harmony vocals), fiddle and keyboards the combination is of the kind to move timber construction as well as the heart of those given to songs of the ilk. Superb, and it came totally unexpected. “Sounds of Our Home” is a sombre ode as he struggles with loneliness, but through matching vocals from Jenny Anne Nooe he builds something rigged and strong.
Such the diversity of Hager; he certainly isn’t a one-trick pony, although the track suits him a great deal better than “Here Comes The Flood” which follows it in the running order. As for title-track “American Saga” it is nuts and bolts roots Americana with no quarter given as he speaks of ‘living in fear and of playing out an American sage and of how we are making the same mistakes. A familiar theme but nevertheless one of note and to which Hager is well suited. American Saga is his first record of original material (no shame in that) let’s hope he is now ready to move forward and not take too long in hitting us with another record but only better!
Album: American Saga
Label: Flower Sack
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.
The Daily Country
Nashville songwriter Charlie Hager recently released his new album,American Saga (Flour Sack Cape Records/Greenland Studios), a ten song collection that includes his current single, “These Days.” The rootsy acoustic track is gentle, ruminative….and timely. “These Days” considers something many are quick to do: judge others before getting to know them or hearing them out. Hager isn’t angry, he sings with a calm, encouraging, positive tone reminding us that in the end “it’s our choice to let them in” - something that in the current landscape strikes a chord.
“These days we don’t give someone a chance to prove themselves
We Decide to deny and cast our doubts
Purposely the different ones we don’t seem to help
Refusing and choosing to leave them out
But it’s in our hands, in our minds and in our friends the choice to let them in”