Thursday, November 15, 2012

REVIEW: Local H -- Hallelujah! I'm a Bum

How you gonna live at 40?
How you gonna live it down?
How you gonna live at 40?
Whatcha gonna tell your kids?

Scott Lucas asked those questions way back in 2004, in the classic song "Heavy Metal Bakesale" on the fifth Local H album Whatever Happened to PJ Soles? In the intervening years, Lucas himself has waded that Rubicon into middle age. So how, then, does Scott Lucas live it down, now that he's a couple of years on the other side of 40? Well, he lives it down by releasing the best Local H album yet, and then hitting the road to tour the hell out of it.

The album, Hallelujah! I'm a Bum, takes its title from a hundred year old hobo folk song, and like every Local H album, it showcases a tense interplay of empathy and fury. Despite the vocal similarities, I've always considered Lucas to be less Kurt Cobain and more Paul Westerberg -- an opinion I'd refrain from expressing if I didn't think this album proved me right. That is, for maybe the first time in this band's body of work, Lucas seems less a brash, bad-tempered smartass and more a wistful, careworn smartass.

In fact, some of the best moments on the album are when he's not trying to be a smartass at all. On "Blue Line," Lucas expands the record's "concept" beyond ruminations on the ennui and frustrations of real people struggling in a depressed economy, observing more big-picture tears in the social fabric:

It's getting hard to realize
A sense of self in other eyes
. . .
The "we" is dead

Lucas, a Chicagoan (originally from Zion, IL), has set the scene on the Blue Line train that runs from O'Hare through downtown and out to the western suburbs -- which in winter is, for many of the desperately poor, the only respite from the elements. Check it out:

Although several songs on this hour-long album tilt toward the anthemic, there's no shortage of those muscular, caustic tunes necessary to a proper Local H effort. Among my favorites is "Paddy Considine", a worthy effort to do for the English actor something along the lines of what Jonathan Richman did for Pablo Picasso.

It's hard to overstate how excellent this album is from front to back, with perfect pacing, recurring lyrical themes, and plenty of noise. Lucas always has been a great lyricist, but there are some stunning phrases on this record -- e.g., "a gauntlet of goodbyes" (from "Say the Word") -- that suggest he's one of those rare rock and roll artists whose voice as a writer continues to improve as he gets older. Indeed, he seems to be embracing his 40s. You can see this very thing in the first video from the album, for the song "Cold Manor", although he probably is not as quick to fight people in the crowd as he used to be.

"Hallelujah! I'm a Bum" was released in September by Slimstyle Records. Get it in time to be familiar with it when you catch them live, which in my case, will be on 15 December at Local 506 in Chapel Hill. Check the other dates at the band's page linked below.  First, though, here's a brilliant concert video. It's not on the album, but it did happen.

Local H page

SlimStyle Records

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