Review: Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts – ‘Nowhere to Go But Everywhere’

For many UK-based Ryan Hamilton fans, their first encounter with the amiable Texan was four years ago when Hamilton provided the stateside filling in a sandwich marked ‘Made In England’. Coming on after Massive Wagons had laid waste to the stage and before Ginger Wildheart tore the roof off with his solo band, had all the makings of a tough, thankless task. But Hamilton and his band (at the time; ‘The Traitors’) needn’t have worried as they played a blinder, and the die was cast, Ryan Hamilton had found an audience, and that audience had found an artist to genuinely care about.

Like Ginger Wildheart, Ryan Hamilton is an artist that wears his heart firmly on his sleeve, and at times it’s been heartbreaking watching his anguish and heartache play out on social media as he dealt with (and still deals with) online bullying, as well as his recent divorce. The lines between artist and fanbase disappeared and at times it felt like it was one of your mates going through a hard time. Only, he was in Texas and you were in the UK, so taking him to the pub and lending an ear was out of the question. From this period of anguish comes a new album; ‘Nowhere To Go But Everywhere’, the end product of Hamilton embarking on the American equivalent of an Aussie walkabout: the road trip.

Albums born out of a break-up tend to be raw and downbeat, with Fleetwood Mac’s behemoth ‘Rumours’ being the most notable exception to that rule. ‘Nowhere To Go But Everywhere’ is not Hamilton’s ‘Rumours’, if anything it’s more akin to Springsteen’s break-up-looming album; the magnificent ‘Tunnel Of Love’. There are moments of joy on this, the follow-up to last years ‘This Is The Sound’ album (or if you prefer – ‘TiTS’); the lighter-than-light opening track ‘Only A Dream’ with the easily relatable opening line of “Why do we even bother?”, followed by the E-Street keyboard fuelled ‘Oh No (featuring Kay Hanley)’, the instant earworms of ‘Jesus & John Lennon’, and the jaunty ‘Out Of My League’, all make for a fantastic opening fifteen minutes or so. Yes, these are all deeply personal moments (especially the latter, a phrase that we’ve all no doubt used at some point), but at no point does it feel like the listener is intruding on Hamilton’s heartache.

This vibe continues when Hamilton and his Harlequin Ghosts slow it down on tracks such as ‘Let’s Go Slow’ which comes complete with a subtle lap-steel in the background, a beautiful deft touch from drummer Mickey Richards, and a floating “Na Na Na” refrain throughout. And, although ‘Don’t Fall Apart’ is a ballad with some real tugging-on-heartstring parts, the overriding sensation that the listener could take from it is that although we might be dealing with something that we had no control over, how we deal with the pain and heartache is ultimately down to us. Again The Harlequin Ghosts (featuring Richards and hair-metal loving bassist Rob Lane) keep it simple and deliver a wonderfully understated performance, the gospel-like handclaps, and backing vocals towards the end are especially stirring.

‘Newcastle Charm’ changes the pacing by upping the tempo, and those pesky earworms resurface in one of the catchiest tracks this year. It’s a fantastic, upbeat moment that gets the toes tapping and the hips swaying. Sometimes the listener might forget that ‘Nowhere To Go But Everywhere’ is a break-up album, and ‘Newcastle Charm’ is one of those moments for sure. It also forms a killer one-two with a gorgeous rendition of Tom Petty’s ‘Southern Accent’ which features the ever-wonderful Carol Hodge on piano. There is great strength throughout the album, best exemplified on ‘We Gave It Hell’, which like the earlier ‘Don’t Fall Apart’ reinforces the feeling that how someone deals with the heartache and grows from it, is down to the individual. A thought underlined by the you’ve-got-this ethos of closing track ‘Pick Yourself Up’ with it’s “…start over again” message.

‘Nowhere To Go But Everywhere’ is one of those albums that many will be able to relate to quite easily, and some will no doubt find some form of catharsis within its eleven tracks. Hamilton’s songwriting is sharper than ever and he remains a storyteller of the finest vintage. Expertly produced with the Midas-like touch of Dave Draper, it’s fair to say that there is not a duff track to be found on ‘Nowhere To Go But Everywhere’.

Available September 18th on Wicked Cool Records, more information here.

Connect with Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts here, check out Rob Lane’s ‘Straight To Video podcast here.

Review – Dave

 

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