A brutally frank songwriter from Syracuse, New York, Ed Hamell is a narrative-based guitar slinger who works exclusively from a jet-black palette. In one song, for example, he imagined the late Matthew Shepard, slain cross-dresser Tina Brandon, and punk martyr Brian Deneke all looking down from the great beyond, sharing a heavenly cup of joe and quietly acknowledging "We can be who we want to be."
During more energetic outbursts, Hamell on Trial thankfully kicks sensitive coffee-house balladry squarely in the ass. Armed with an acoustic small-body 1937 Gibson, an unrelenting strumming hand, and lyrical integrity to match that of Phil Ochs, Billy Bragg, or Lou Reed, this high-intensity performer (and ex-frontman for the Works) amuses while giving voice to the disenfranchised.
Touring on the strength of his fifth full-length, Tough Love (on Righteous Babe), Hamell mixes politics, the Ten Commandments, drug dealers, road trips, sex, and worry warts into an intoxicating, confessional spoken-sung brand of anti-folk. Fully recovered from head and spinal injuries suffered in a 2000 car accident (which provides the grist for "Downs," a mesmerizing, autobiographical scorcher that includes the line "I thanked God for what I had/And what they had prescribed"), the monthly columnist for Uncut magazine finds himself braced for more than just another head-on collision: Razzing Prince, Hamell once summed up his own legendary underground status, saying, "If I get famous enough, I'm gonna change my name to a physical gesture." Now, that's rock and roll.