Hamell on Trial's third full-length album, and his first on his own record label, Such-A-Punch Media. Remember how I said Dar Williams' The Green World, Sleater-Kinney's All Hands On The Bad One and Paul Simon's You're The One were the best albums of 2000? I lied, but only out of ignorance. Hamell outdoes himself on this one --- there's a full-fledged concept album interwoven with his usual searing autobiography. From the first spoken line of "Go Fuck Yourself", it was clear this was Hamell at his raw, abrasive best, but track 9, "Shout Outs", is the album's turning point. Hamell plays a radio DJ taking requests from characters in various songs, and in doing so ties together more than half the tracks on the album.
Choochtown relates the story of one fateful night at the Toddle House Diner from the perspective of participants and innocent and not-so-innocent passers-by. Fans may recognize the central character --- the junkie Bobby, first introduced in "Piccolo Joe" on Hamell's first album, Big As Life --- but we never hear his take on events. The masterful storytelling left me undecided as to whether Hamell was actually one of the players in the story --- most of the first-person tracks sounded completely autobiographical. It's awesome. The first half of the album also features several purely autobiographical song-rants like "Hamell's Ramble", "Uncle Morris", and "Disconnected", which provide a nice break from the "concept" songs (and occasionally tie back to the main story).
All songs written by Ed Hamell, who sang, played guitar like a God, drummed, and produced. Various accompanying artists (including Hamell's wife, Linda Guyette) provided additional instrumentals (bass, voices, etc.) The album was recorded in Hamell and other friends' basements. It totally rocks. Go buy it and enjoy now.
- Go Fuck Yourself
- When Bobby Comes Down
- Hamell's Ramble
- I'm Gonna Watch You Sleep
- Uncle Morris
- Nancy's Got a New Boyfriend
- Shout Outs
- The Lottery
- The Long Drive
- Joe Brush
- The Mall
- Bill Hicks (Ascension)
- Bill Hicks
I'll post hardlinks to lyrics and song reviews as they're created, and I'm proud to say that as of 21 August 2003, I have Hamell's permission to reproduce his lyrics on Everything2. And on that note, here's the words to the title track of Choochtown (it seems strange to call them "lyrics" when the piece is almost entirely spoken, albeit in a sing-songy way):
Choochtown (line breaks by me, to emphasise the rhymes)
My name is Chooch, I don't know what you heard
About the night in question... word.
It's only half the story, 'cause a lot more went down
I don't hang out with Bobby, man, he's a fucking clown
Y'know, I might sell him drugs, or a stereo that's hot
But I hang out with players, which Bobby definitely is not
I hang in bars uptown, I got a credit card scam,
I got a call from McClusky, you know he thinks he's the man
Some kind of hot shit lawyer, a friend to the stars
And it's mad crazy money, it's stylin' bad cars
He calls me up to his office, 'cause he knows I know the street
He says, "Close the door," I say, "Ooh, very discreet."
He says he's got a little problem, maybe I can check
He says, "You wanna make a thousand?" I say, "Yeah, what the heck."
Seems he's got a famous client that had his house cleaned
In more ways than one, if you know what I mean
And the house maid found some photos of him with some kids
And if this stuff should surface, man, this client hits the skids
There's a blackmail letter, I didn't ask how much
He gives me an address, I said, "Yeah, I'll be in touch."
And hey, I'm good to go. I'm good to go. I'm good to go. Ya know?
I check out the address, she moved out on the 15th,
There's a guy Joe Brush lives there, and he spills the beans
Seems she moved out at night, she don't pay no rent
She's got a boyfriend calling the shots, but Joe don't know where they went
And then Joe remembers: the boyfriend's a cook
At the Toddle House, so I go over there and take a look
It's the graveyard shift, I'm there about 3 AM.
I ask about the photos, but things get out of hand
So I stuff him in the cooler, 'cause I rearrange his face
I rifle through his pockets, I found a lease on a new place.
I hear noises in the back, I go out where they're eatin'
And there's fuckin' Bobby, givin' the place a verbal beatin'.
And I'm trying to be invisible, he's yelling, "Hey, Chooch, c'mere!"
I say, aw fuck, I'll sit with these guys, till I can make it clear
But I gotta hit the cook's house, ya know, tonight?
And of course, when we're leaving, fuckin' Bobby's gotta fight
But hey, I'm good to go. I'm good to go. I'm good to go. Ya know?
So I ditch these guys quick, I take a cab to the address
And the house maid gives up the photos with very little stress.
But as I round the corner, something dawns on me
I recognize from these photos this old actor from TV
And he's having sex with children, now this would close the door
On future shots on Baywatch and Mary fuckin' Tyler Moore
So I visit this old actor, firmly explain my situation
And he gives me 90 G's, to show his appreciation
And I buy an El Camino, until the heat dies down
I figure I'll visit Texas, I like that Houston town
And hey, I'm good to go. I'm good to go. I'm good to go. Ya know?
(Breaking out of the rhythm of the piece):
Hey, Baldy, there, you're always writin' them songs about like Joe Brush, and, y'know, Bobby. Why don't you ever write something about me, man? I got something for you here, listen to this:
(Sung to the tune of "Downtown"):
Baby you know a little place you can go
Where there's always blow --- Choochtown!
(Spoken): Whaddya think, man? Pretty cool, huh? Hey, step over by the cooler here, let's talk about this for a sec.
I'm good to go, I'm good to go, I'm good to go. Y'know...
In live performances (and on his live album, Ed's Not Dead), Hamell generally performs "Choochtown" immediately after "When Bobby Comes Down", to make it absolutely clear that this is Chooch's spin on the events of that evening, even a rebuttal to the previous song. On Choochtown, however, there are several tracks between the two pieces, so listeners are forced to pay more attention and make more connections between these and other tracks on the albums. Also, the album version of the song is slower and less frenetically paced than the live versions I've heard. Finally, on the album, "Choochtown" is followed immediately by "Shout Outs", which as I mentioned before is the piece that ties the story elements of the album together, and of course that's deliberate as well, and pretty clever if you ask me.
So, to sum up (and repeat myself somewhat): Choochtown, by Hamell On Trial, released in 2000 by Such-A-Punch Media, is one of my favorite albums of all time. It features a colorful cast of characters who may or may not be real people, but who certainly feel like them. The music is both raw and polished, but anything but soothing to listen to, and although the stories are often dark, they also describe moments of depth and tenderness. It may not be everyone's thing, and I realize that just because I like something a lot, it doesn't mean it is of high quality, but I like it a lot. So there.
All cited words copyright Ed Hamell, reproduced by permission (see Hamell on Trial for details).