★★★★ (out of 5 stars)
In his career, Florida son Chuck Ragan has traveled many miles both literal and figurative. Besides the physical reality of constant touring, the journeying spirit has shaped his arc as an artist, from the blitzing heart of legendary Gainesville post-hardcore band Hot Water Music to a scene-building solo life that’s made him a leader in the folk-punk scene.
This fourth studio album is proof that Ragan’s pilgrimage not only continues, but is headed toward a big new horizon. After outgrowing punk and making a legitimate mark in acoustic-based folk music, his compass is now trained on the rock side of the American roots tradition with a brawny ensemble sound courtesy of the Camaraderie, Ragan’s star-spangled band comprised of guitarist/pedal steel player Todd Beene (Lucero), fiddler Jon Gaunt, bassist Joe Ginsberg and drummer David Hidalgo Jr. (Social Distortion) – who are coming to Orlando as part of the band’s inaugural tour. Adding even more weight to the record is a guest list of vocalists – Lucero frontman Ben Nichols, Drag the River’s Jon Snodgrass and Chad Price, Jenny O., and the Loved Ones’ Dave Hause – farmed from Ragan’s definitive live folk-punk showcase, the Revival Tour.
The aggregate effect is grand, amplified and built for the interstate. But for all its newfound expanse and horsepower, Till Midnight is an extension of – not departure from – Ragan’s signature soul. It’s a rock record, but one deeply informed by the wisdom and virtue from each of his major steps along the way. With the fire of punk and the earth of folk still in place as cornerstones, Ragan’s new sound is stout heartland rock, rendered with Southern grace.
As far back as his Hot Water Music roots, Ragan’s always been best when gunning for the sky in gritty, full-throated anthems. And this album benefits greatly from largely maintaining that high gear. In soaring twang-rockers like “Vagabond,” “Revved,” “Gave My Heart Out,” “You and I Alone” and “Whistleblowers Song,” Ragan bleeds sweet like a down-home Springsteen in his most full-winged work to date.
Chuck Ragan and the Camaraderie perform 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 29 at the Social with Jonny Two Bags, Bartender Brian, $17-$20.