Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Tough Love
Righteous Babe

Bald songwriter tackles the big subjects from a lowlife perspective

Hamell on Trial is Syracuse, New York-raised Ed Hamell, who led a bunch of bands before going solo and acoustic after a benefit concert one-off. No folk-punk or antifolkie plays harder or louder. His debut on the label of fellow traveler Ani DiFranco, featuring a neat alt-celeb studio band, isn't as undeniable as 2000's self-released, story-filled Choochtown. But Hamell hasn't lost his knack for describing true crime and evoking existential outrage. Love and mortality also interest him, sometimes in tandem--"When Destiny Calls," which mixes coke dealing with child rearing, or "Tough Love," about a sociopathic couple bringing their hots to your town. But on the whole, Hamell sides with God, who gets the lead role in the tone-setting "Don't Kill."

Blender, Sept. 2003