Yes, every punk frontman and his dog (not yet, but give it time) seems to chill out in time, go solo and start playing alt-folk/country. But most of them sound pretty uninspired and forced – Dustin Kensrue, I’m looking at you. However, there are a handful of guys who are ball-bustingly awesome when they pick up an acoustic and nail a passionate, raw and emotive mix of alt-country/folk and punk. So, in no particular order, here are my five favourite punk rock solo artists that blow minds as they strum tunes, starting with the mighty Chuck Ragan.
1) CHUCK RAGAN.
Known as the one with the even gruffer voice from arguably the finest punk band in the world, Hot Water Music (not to mention a love of fishing and beard-growing), Chuck may now live in California but he’s Florida through-and-through. First indulging his love of country and folk with the mighty yet short-lived Rumbleseat (alongside HWM bandmate Chris Wollard and Bitchin’ frontwoman Samantha Jones) over a decade ago, he released his powerful debut solo studio album ‘Feast Or Famine’ back in 2007. Bursting with raw acoustic anthems that will have you singing along if you have a heart that beats, the album is a stormer. Check out the above video of live favourite ‘The Boat’ at NYC’s The Knitting Factory back in ‘07 and get a shudder up your spine.
2) AUSTIN LUCAS.
Son of producer/songwriter Bob, with whom he appeared alongside, as well as Chuck Ragan, on 2008’s ‘Bristle Bridge’ collaborative album, Lucas has been a member of several bands, including Twenty Third Chapter, Rune, K10 Prospect and Guided Cradle. However, the Indiana-born roots punk is best known for his stunning, surprisingly smooth but heartfelt vocals in his solo work. His releases date back to 2006 but his latest album, the majestic ‘Somebody Loves You’ was released earlier this year on Suburban Home Records and is as homegrown and rootsy as the crickets and barking dog with which the record opens.
For proof, just watch this video of him blasting out the title track of his latest album… in the back of a moving car. Awesome.
3) WILLIAM ELLIOTT WHITMORE.
With the deep voice of an elderly black blues musician and the heart and tattoos of a punk (listen to the lyrics of ‘Johnny Law’ for proof), Whitmore may only be in his early thirties but his voice echoes a lifetime of experiences, both on his Lee County, Iowa farm and touring the world. Having toured with his good friends in Ten Grand, as well as the likes of Lucero, Converge and The Pogues, his appeal stretches far and wide, and it’s no surprise. Playing with just a banjo or acoustic guitar there are few solo musicians in the world who play as energetically and passionately as Whitmore.
With his latest album ‘Animals In The Dark’ hitting shops back in February through Epitaph imprint ANTI-, Whitmore targeted the “malicious politicians with nefarious schemes, charlatans and crooked cops” that are pulling the world down, through songs such as ‘Old Devils’, as well as his usual vivid tales of life on his farm. Watch the video of Whitmore performing ‘Old Devils’ on ‘Later With Jools Holland’ in April, then pick your jaw up off the floor before you trip over it.
4) FRANK TURNER.
Earning a place in many punks’ CD collections with his hardcore band Million Dead, former frontman Frank Turner turned his hand to solo alt-folk and folk punk tunes before the band split up in 2005. When they did he plowed forward and has since released two EPs and two albums (and a compilation album) of rousing songs that show that Brits can pen roots music just as well (hell, Turner is a shit load better than most) as American musicians. Staying true to his punk roots as he explores folk and country music more, this live video from Colorado on Frank’s U.S. tour earlier this year shows his songwriting skills, not to mention the banter (if you get sick of it skip to 1 min. 30 secs. and enjoy.) But of course, after his tour diary on this here blog, you know how awesome he is already.
With triumphant appearances at the last couple of Reading/Leeds festivals, tours all over the world, including Russia and the U.S., the Hampshire-raised Turner is wasting no time since last year’s ‘Love Ire And Song’, with new album ‘Poetry Of The Deed’ out on Xtra Mile/Epitaph on September 7. Frank Turner is like the Ferrero Rocher man – he really spoils us.
5) BEN NICHOLS.
As the vocalist/songwriter of Replacements-loving, Memphis, Tennessee country punks Lucero, Nichols has played solo shows before but only released his first solo material, in the form of the EP ‘The Last Pale Light In The West’, this January through the band’s own Liberty & Lament label. Thankfully, it’s one hell of a debut that lives up to the reputation of his day job. Based on the incredible, brutal 1985 Cormac McCarthy Western novel ‘Blood Meridian’, the seven songs are dusty alt-country tunes that tell the story of parts of the book and some of the main characters in an impressive, imaginative way.
It was enough to make me read the book (sometimes while listening to the EP) and it’s the perfect companion and an absorbing record, and it’s no doubt amazing live if this live video from last October is anything to go by.
So what do you think of this list? Anyone that you would have included that isn’t on here? Tom Gabel, Dave House, Tim Barry or Franz Nicolay perhaps? What makes your favourite punk troubadours so special to you?