On Songs for Parents Who Enjoy Drugs, Hamell on Trial uses his father-son relationship to address the American machine with a stellar blend of bold lyricism and candid politics. "This album is for all those liberal-minded people who can't fathom raising a child in this world of non-tolerance," explains Ed Hamell, otherwise known as the string-punishing, acoustic punk minstrel Hamell On Trial.
On his second LP for Righteous Babe Records, Hamell gets in touch with his outer child right before our ears. Newfound fatherhood is the inspiration here: Hamell's three-year-old son, Detroit, is all over the album, as a character in his dad's lyrics and as a guest vocalist. And the one-man-punk-band is expanded with the help of a few friends (Andrew Case on drums, Mike Napolitano on electric guitar), as well as the production wizardry of Ani DiFranco (who also contributes backing vocals, synth bass, keys, drums and kazoo).
But this isn't a Harry Chapin kind of party. The opening track, "Inquiring Minds," finds Hamell pondering what he'll say when his kid asks him if he ever did drugs or had premarital sex, eventually deciding, "I'm gonna lie." "Values" finds Detroit using our unqualified president to get out of learning his ABCs. "Is there some kind of presidential school?/Some kind of test or exam to show that you're the qualified man?" Hamell sings over ironically playful acoustic plucking. "Dad, I'm gonna hold off on class/You can stick the alphabet up your ass."
While he's no stranger to social issues, Songs For Parents... may be his most scathing indictment of the powers that be-and funny enough to incite a laugh riot. "I've never been as topical or angry as I am now, and that is a direct result of the kid. He's going to grow up in a country that's in need of a serious mend, and as always, I cling to humor to get me through it."
Hamell on Trial provides witty insight to the question, "How do I raise a child in today's world?" And like every good children's story, Songs For Parents Who Enjoy Drugs has a strong moral: The guitar is mightier than the sword.
*This review first appeared on our sister site "Roots & Resonance."*
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