Charlie Hager “Truth and Love” (Flour Sack Cape Records, 2019) Jim Finnie Americana-UK
It’s always interesting as a reviewer when you get presented with an album from an artist you’ve never heard of and know nothing about. The good news is that it’s listened to with an open mind and with no pre-conceived notions about what to expect regarding musical style or quality. Such as it is with Charlie Hager and his second album ‘Truth and Love’. Hailing originally from Nashville you could probably guess that his musical influences will be derived from traditional country and to an extent you would be right but there are tinges of bluegrass and the judicious use of trumpet throughout makes ‘Truth and Love’ difficult to categorise – and that is the strength of the album in many ways.
The seeds of ‘Truth and Love’ originally started to germinate in 2015, just prior to his first well-received album ‘American Saga’ being released and the title track was conceived during the US primaries as Hager contemplated the lies being propagated by the various politicians (no shock there then!). The title track, though, is the only overtly political song on the album and most of this release is focused on relationships and given his backstory, maybe that’s not surprising. After graduating from university, Hager joined the Marine Corps and then travelled the world courtesy of Uncle Sam and for the first time started playing and writing. He returned to Tennessee in 1991 and after getting married in 1993 and raising three children, he returned to music in 2011 following his divorce from his wife and with the help of some friends he started to break into the Nashville music scene.
There is a hint of darkness in some of the songs and the closing track ‘Stand a Chance at All’ may echo back to Hager’s past as he reflects on how people need to learn to change their behavioural relationships if they are to succeed when things inevitably go wrong between them. That hint of darkness continues on ‘Trying to Lay the Blame’, a deep reflection on the darker side of the human personality that may rear its ugly head at the most unexpected of times. It’s not all gloomy reflection, though. ‘All Yours’ is a hugely romantic statement about enduring love and ‘She Wants to Believe’ continues in a similarly tender fashion.
Throughout ‘Truth and Love’ Hager’s voice, with small hints of Willie Nelson at times, is front and centre, but he is ably supported by some fine playing from the nicely muted trumpet of Robert Gay, while C. J. Colandrea on steel guitar and Daniel Foulkes on fiddle make important contributions. ‘Truth and Love’ is a very solid offering and while there are no absolutely knockout individual tracks on the album there are definitely no clunkers or fillers in here either and the mix of instrumentation and styles works very well throughout. You may not know Charlie Hager when you first hear ‘Truth and Love’ but if you listen carefully to the lyrics you will certainly feel like you know him once you’ve listened to this fine album a few times.
Charlie Hager - Truth And Love (Flour Sack Records)
Nashville based singer-songwriter Charlie Hager has Truth And Love follow his debut album, American Saga (2016). With a potent mix of country, rock and pop he is likely to gain himself a larger audience.
Supported by Erin Nelson (drums, percussion), Andrew Lipow (electric guitar, harmony vocals), producer Joe Lekkas (bass, electric, acoustic guitar), CJ Colandrea (pedal steel guitar), Daniel Foulkes (fiddle) Robert Gay (trumpet) and Ray Dishen, Benjamin Douglas (keyboards) on harmony vocals it’s a busy sounding record. Hager wrote most of the songs himself, and shares the duties on the others. His style of writing offers hints of humour and irony as he speaks of relationships and level of commitment. Whether he’s speaking of finding it easier to disagree than try to understand on title track Truth And Love or on Trying To Lay The Blame (‘there’s only one face in the mirror, look at all the human madness standing the way‘).
With generous helpings of pedal steel to balance the lead guitar and rhythm section plus trumpet. That works a treat on This Ain‘t Love as hints of Jimmy Buffett crept in as Hager gives his music a smart variation. Likewise is the case on Stand A Chance At All, on easy back a little he gives the lyrics and music additional room to breath (and listener an opportunity to savour the complexity of his work). Nothing To Do With You is arguably the best track, an artful ballad loaded in pedal steel as Hager engages the listener with his lyrics. Superb use of harmony vocals to seal the deal.
Maurice Hope Flyingshoes Reviews
Charlie Hager review…November 6, 2019…..
TRUTH AND LOVE
FLOUR SACK CAPE RECORDS
TRUTH AND LOVE–STOLE MY HEART–NEVER GOOD–BIG STAR–THIS AIN’T LOVE–ALL YOURS–SHE WANTS TO BELIEVE–NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU–TRYING TO LAY THE BLAME–STAND A CHANCE AT ALL
Charlie Hager is a brilliant singer/songwriter now living out of Vegas after beginning his career here in Music City. He learned much of his musical prowess from his dad, a bluegrass player, James Bernard, from the 1940’s up until his untimely passing in 1981. Charlie studied two years at UT-Knoxville, and pulled a stint with the Marines, before returning to Nashville. In 2011, post-divorce, he began to concentrate solely on his music. During this time, he released his debut, “American Saga,” to rave reviews, while simultaneously beginning work on its follow-up. He made that move to Vegas in July, 2018, to work with a production company and to also get a musical foothold on the West Coast.
His latest album, “Truth And Love,” is here, and consists of ten originals and co-writes, with some of these cuts created right after his debut. The theme of the album came about as Charlie observed the number of lies being told during the 2016 election process. The set begins with that title cut, where our hero always believes it is best to tell the truth and accept the consequences, because “Truth And Love holds the key.” That theory is put to the acid test a few cuts later, as our lovers are definitely on the outs, and, “bein’ without trust, This Ain’t Love between us!” A sweet horn section adds to the ambience of both these cuts, and they are present again on Charlie’s look at human nature and how, at the end of the day, “there’s only one face in the mirror” one has to answer to, in “Trying To Lay The Blame”
It’s a natch’l fact that this ain’t Charlie Hager’s first rodeo. He’s written songs built around life experiences, and the stories that go along with them. They’re honest, full of passion and grit, with absolutely no sugar-coating. Enjoy “Truth And Love” from a rising young Americana star! Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues And Roots Alliance.
REVIEW: Charlie Hager “Truth And Love” It’s Like Comfort Food STEVE SEMERARO Americana Highways
On November 1, Charlie Hager released Truth and Love, his second full-length album, on Flour Sack Cape Records. You how those mashed potatoes and greasy meatloaf give you that secure feeling of satisfaction and tastes so good. But you also know, that comfort food is just not very good for you. Truth and Love is kinda like that. This is back porch music at its finest. The steel guitar, C. J. Colandrea, fiddle, Daniel Foulks, keys, Benjamin Douglas, and muted trumpet, Robert Gay, are a fresh autumn breeze while the drums, Erin Nelson, bass and guitars – Joe Lekkas and Andrew Lipow – are the booze in the blender. But Hager’s song writing, and the harmonies provided by Ryan Dishen and Benjamin Douglas, are filled with a deeper darkness than a casual listen might suggest.
Charlie’s a man after my own heart, having put music aside to raise a family. But he’s come back strong with the help of the folks at Greenland Studios in East Nashville, TN. Hager claims that he was inspired to write this album by the infection of lying in politics. But only the title track seems to comment on that. The truth-and-love sentiment is heartfelt, but the message that you have to ignore your friends cause they think the world is flat makes you wonder – “why are they your friends?”
Much of the rest of the album is relationship based, perhaps hewing to his original idea of writing about his relationship with his ex-wife. And it’s pretty self-deprecating. “I suck for a lot of reasons, but I’ve been lucky to have a good women” captures the feel. One of the most successful tracks in this group is This Ain’t Love. It has a swaying island feel that uses Gay’s trumpet to great effect. Combined with Hager’s natural downhome tenor, it’s infectiously smile-inducing despite the tough lyric. The guitar intro and chorus to Big Star have a bit of the same feel, though that song is more solidly country with a trotting the horses feel.
For my money, Hager’s at his best when he writes with detail. She Wants to Believe is my favorite song on the album. It’s an interesting third-person point of view on a woman who meets this guy that she really likes. It’s lush with details that draw you in and make you listen with a keen ear. And the music is led by an alluring guitar note riff reminiscent of Springsteen’s One Step Up, and Two Steps Back. As is the cadence that Hagar uses for the vocal. And all the while, you wonder, is the singer the guy the girl wants to believe in? Does he know he’s going to hurt her? Hager works the same bit of alchemy on Trying to Lay the Blame, a mariachi-flavored song about a phony who may or may not be singing about himself.
Nothing to Do With You also highlights Hager’s talent for lyrical detail in what hits me as perhaps the saddest song I’ve ever heard. He describes a series of people challenged by life. I’m not sure I get the message. Maybe that’s not the point. It’s definitely a powerful song, but one that is both hard to listen to and hard not to appreciate. It takes guts to put out a song like that. Bravo.
The album wraps up with a sittin’-on-the-fence let’s-talk-this-out number – Stand a Chance at All – that’s just a bit more optimistic than it has a right to be . . . given the nine songs leading up to it. Like much of the album, it makes you feel good, though you know it probably shouldn’t. Mid-tempo country with some tasty fiddle and chord changes. I wish he’d started the album with it. Because by the end, it’s making me tear up a little because I know this character doesn’t stand a chance at all.
Learn more about Charlie Hager on his website. The album is a digital only release. Look for it (and buy it) wherever you download music.
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”